The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste is a small equatorial country in Southeast Asia. It's a young nation, occupied by Indonesia in 1975, it became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century in 2002. A decade long struggle for independence has created numerous development challenges for this new nation.
Timor-Leste is among Asia-Pacific’s poorest countries, with about 34.9 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. The lack of productive jobs is a critical problem, which has exacerbated recent tensions. The economy is dependent on government spending (financed by petroleum revenues) and assistance from international donors. Private sector development has lagged due to human capital shortages, infrastructure weakness, an incomplete legal system, and an inefficient regulatory environment.
Some of the key challenges faced by Timor-Leste are the destruction of infrastructures including schools caused by the many years of political unrest. Along with this, a new curriculum in place but less skilled teachers pose as a significant challenge. Having Tetum and Portuguese as the national languages also poses linguistic challenges for education. All of these are resulting in a high drop out rates among the students.
Efforts made to improve maternal health has resulted in a significant reduction in maternal mortality from 660/100,000 live births in 2000 to 270 in 2014. This was made possible through the development of the National Reproductive Health Strategy and the National Family Planning Policy. However, access to health services by all is still a challenge.
Child mortality and high death rates related to preventable causes (diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, childhood respiratory infections and diarrhoea), still pose a huge challenge to the country. Further, communicable diseases are widespread with malaria, dengue fever, acute respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases all especially serious among children. Tuberculosis is also a major public health hazard and leprosy remains endemic. This state of health can be attributed to lack of basic infrastructure, lack of access to health services and shortage of health professionals are
Timor-Leste is highly vulnerable to natural disasters. Floods, winds, landslides, earthquakes, locust and mice plagues are among the hazards that threaten food security and increase vulnerability. The majority of the population depends on subsistence agriculture, and food shortages are particularly severe during the country’s ‘lean’ season, from October to March.
In urban centres, pollution is a key environmental issue. There are no effective waste-management systems in place, which could become a major problem in the highly populated areas, and in several coastal areas visited by tourists. Dili has a basic sewerage system and limited collection and disposal of solid waste. However, large piles of rubbish accumulate due to illegal dumping, which further pollutes the groundwater used for drinking by many people.
Statistics sourced from the United Nations Develop Programme (UNDP) Human Development Reports.
The Australian Volunteers program in Timor-Leste began in 1995, through the placement of the first volunteer as an English language advisor with the Department of Local Government.
The volunteer program expanded in 1999 and since then has recruited, deployed and supported more than 500 Australian volunteers. The majority of placements have been in the area of governance, with other areas of focus being education, health and environment.
Main focus areas
Supporting sustainable livelihoods
With a particular focus on women’s and technical and vocational education organisations, volunteer assignments aim to improve resilience and self-sufficiency of communities in Timor-Leste. This is done through assignments that enable and support opportunities for income generation and improve service provision.
Supporting education outcomes
Australian volunteers support the professional skills development of teachers and trainers in both the tertiary and vocational education sectors through targeted professional training and skills development. Assignments support the development of educational infrastructure including development of appropriate and contemporary educational resources through curriculum development, development of local language resources for primary education; and to establish effective modern ITC resources at the National University of Timor-Leste.
Improving governance and accountability
Australian volunteers focus on strengthening capacity in organisational development and management, program planning and implementation, technical training, advocacy, communications and marketing of government and civil society organisations.
Social protection / creating a safer environment
Volunteer assignments work towards creating a safer environment by working in women’s and children’s advocacy; gender empowerment; youth engagement; advocacy and services support for disenfranchised groups such as people living with disability, people living with HIV/AIDS and the LGBT community; human rights and increased engagement with, and access to the justice system; peace building, reconciliation and social cohesion and monitoring, research and policy development.
Strengthening health outcomes
Australian volunteers aim to enhance quality and access to primary, secondary and the broad spectrum of health-related services. Assignments support professional training and skills development at the National Hospital and other major public clinics of medical professionals to improve clinical services and capacity in patient-centred care. Assignments also support the prevention, management and treatment of communicable and vector borne diseases; the reduction of malnutrition through targeted education, focusing on nutrition sensitive agriculture.; mental health services; general administration and financial management and public and environmental health.