East Timor trip provides eye-opening experience
During July, I was fortunate enough to travel to East Timor. As part of a nine-member delegation, I represented the Oaktree Foundation, Australia’s largest youth-run aid and development organisation. During the three-week field trip, we met with NGOs, government officials, community leaders and local youth. The trip deepened our understanding of aid and development issues and was an opportunity to build sustainable partnerships that would allow us to improve the quality of our own development work.
East Timor is still not even 10 years old. First colonised by Portugal, it was then invaded and occupied by Indonesia for over 20 years. After struggling so hard to gain independence in 2002, East Timor faces a new battle – development as a nation. The independence war left the country without basic infrastructure, a stable political system or an economy.
After arriving in the capital, Dili, we attended a development conference with government ministers, local university students and other NGOs. As we slowly found our feet in Timor, the magnitude of the problems facing this new nation began to sink in.
We quickly learnt that simply giving money and aid was not good enough. What is important is giving effective aid.
One of the major issues in Timor is that it is becoming increasingly Dili centric. Since independence, young people have flocked to Dili to find jobs, as rural districts become deserted. For most of these young men and women, breaking out of the poverty cycle means moving to Dili and finding a job. The majority of foreign aid and the focus of the United Nations remains in the capital, while the surrounding districts remain relatively neglected.
Keen to get a first-hand perspective of life outside the capital, we visited the districts of Aileu, Lautém and Oecussi. In Aileu, we were lucky enough to see, first hand, the work of one of Oaktree’s funding partner organisations. We visited a number of small businesses that had been set up with the help of vocational training and small amounts of capital. One business in particular, a bakery, was providing jobs for over 15 local youth. What was most impressive, however, was how an aid program like this could empower and change people. These young people, with the tools and knowledge to build a successful business, were passionate and excited about their futures.
We spent a week in Lospalos, a subdistrict in Lautém, with local young people who were organising another development conference. For me, this was the highlight of the trip and was an opportunity to learn, first-hand about the challenges that young people in the districts face. While spending time and living with youth from the rural district, we were able to appreciate the incredible passion, resilience and sense of community that resides in Timorese people.
I would like to thank the University of Melbourne. I am incredibly grateful for the support and sponsorship given to me. Without such generosity, this life-changing experience would not have been possible. It was an opportunity to engage with a number of complex economic, social and moral questions, which reinforced how much of a practical application my studies have.