By Ratha Ra, Regional Project Support Team Coordinator, Cambodia.
Living away from my home country of Cambodia, on the other side of Asia Pacific, has been a wonderful life-changing experience.
Coming to Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, is a new experience for me and a chance to explore something new outside Cambodia. The first thing I discovered was that Timorese people are welcoming and generous. Local people always say “hello” and greet me like an old friend.
Coming to Timor-Leste was not only a personal challenge but also an important professional experience working in a new country and on new projects. CUFA Timor-Leste has two key projects running at the moment: the Credit Union Development Project and the Village Entrepreneur Initiative. CUFA continues to scope new project ideas which will benefit communities and enhance people’s financial independence and livelihoods.
The Credit Union Development Project runs in three different sub-districts, with six staff. Since 2012 we have developed 13 model credit unions, bringing local community people together to create their own savings banks, which not only allows them to save money for their future but to also access loans for their small businesses and other purposes.
The same goes with the Village Entrepreneur Program. Since 2010 we have helped almost 400 families to establish sustainable small businesses which bring regular incomes to support their families and increase their savings.
I am so proud to work with our CUFA Timor-Leste staff. The team has a unique passion for their work and a deep commitment to the development of Timor. Some of the CUFA projects are in remote areas of Timor which require difficult motorbike rides across the country (and in one case, a journey on horseback) to reach. The team greet this challenge with good humour and a sense of adventure and enjoyment.
Last but not least, having the opportunity to travel overseas has given me a greater awareness of my own national identity as a Cambodian. It has allowed me to widen my perspective and become self-sufficient. I can say my world has been expanded significantly, and with it I have expanded as a person. I am much more self-aware and already feel more confident and more independent than I have in my life.
Want to know more about programs like Village Entrepreneur in Timor-Leste, and how you can help? Click here now.
Fast facts – Timor-Leste
- One of Australia’s closest neighbours, Timor-Leste is a beautiful tropical country with a rich cultural heritage, and it’s an emerging tourist destination for the intrepid traveller.
- As Asia’s youngest nation, the Timorese people have achieved remarkable progress since they voted for independence in 1999. National institutions, non-existent in 1999, are now safeguarding stability and democracy.
- Timor-Leste is one of the world’s poorest countries: although the economy has grown rapidly in recent years, high unemployment and poverty are persistent. 49.9% of the population live under the national poverty line.
- Malnutrition and poor health are widespread and continue to hamper people’s efforts to lead lives of dignity and purpose. A major spin-off from this is that schools are often under-resourced and unable to provide important life skills such as financial literacy – a key to building a strong village economy.