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Workshop group reports and recommendations from Victoria University –
Australia East Timor Association – Development Studies Network
Conference ‘Co-operating with Timor-Leste’, at VU Conference Centre,
Flinders street, Melbourne 17th – 18th June 2005

Human resources development and strengthening the health system
There was considerable focus on strengthening the health system at the peripheral level where
the health services are not yet strongly staffed, resourced or supported. Multi-skilling of staff
is essential but support is needed for those staff working at the periphery. Collaboration
between sectors such as those responsible for communications, water and transport will help
greatly. Management capacity at the district level, responsible for these services, also needs

Part of the solutions may lie in NGOs filling the gaps as long as they collaborate with the
district health officer, rather than adding to the officers’ burdens. They must sign agreements
with the Ministry of Health. Currently, NGOs are largely working in the district capitals and
in Dili, rather than in remote areas. The Ministry of Health, through the district services, is
endeavouring to increase support for isolated people. The recruitment and development of the
role of community motivators is being explored. The use of links with local community
leaders and clergy should also enhance support for isolated people. The ratio of female to
male health workers may need balancing.

Capacity building involves providing learning opportunities in line with defined objectives.
The candidate may need to be assisted to know what is being learnt and how it can be useful
for the individual’s setting. Opportunities should be provided for the candidate to discuss how
the lessons learnt might be applied on return.

Relationships with the Pacific Island countries could be useful because these countries have
similar size, logistic and human resources constraints. Teaching institutions in the Pacific may
also be relevant to Timor-Leste. International bodies such as the WHO should be encouraged
to include East Timorese when organising regional Pacific Island seminars.

Assistance and coordination issues
There is a great amount of goodwill and Australians are keen to assist the people of Timor-
Leste in every way possible. However, the best assistance to the health sector is that which is
provided in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, as explained in the Ministry’s guiding
frame. This document states that submissions must be written in Portuguese or Tetum. The
Ministry should be contacted before preparing any submission to discuss the form and

Friendship cities have valuable relationships, mainly with the local government, in the
districts. However, their inputs sometimes extend to the health services. It is important that
they become aware of the policies and guidelines for appropriate assistance to health services.

It has become apparent that some individual expatriate doctors recruited by the Ministry of
Health have been soliciting individual assistance, outside the framework of the established
guidelines. There can be a problem with equity if some get help and others do not. It is
important that the Ministry of Health agrees to the form of assistance because of the equity
issue, but also because of the need to consider sustainability as well as coordination. Without
integration into the Ministry of Health programme there is no way to support, supervise, or
follow up when the NGO pulls out or finishes the programme. It is important that reports of
the NGO projects are shared with the Ministry of Health. Some NGOs have continued support
and expansion in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and have assisted with ongoing
training. Sequential volunteers have proved helpful when they have had sufficient orientation
to follow the Timor-Leste curricula, including the TB manual, Integrated Management of
Childhood Illness manual, and can continue seamlessly after the previous person.

It is recognised that there is sometimes a problem with availability of supplies from the
Ministry of Health, and NGOs try to work with the Ministry knowing it is the appropriate
procedure. However, when the system is extremely slow and people want to help, the NGOs
are looking for appropriate direction. It was felt that accessing supplies outside the system in
the interim does not help build the capacity of the Ministry of Health. The Ministry is
overstretched, but capacity is needed to respond to these problems and if people cover for
them, capacity will not be built.

It was acknowledged that financial contributions are most helpful because a lot of supplies
can be bought locally. This approach avoids the problems associated with provision of
material assistance from outside Timor-Leste. Clearance from the port still poses problems.
Following the emergency there was an enormous response to assist the people of Timor-Leste;
goodwill was manifest in container-loads of goods shipped to Dili. At that time, there was no
capacity for dealing with the quantity of material. The port is very small and there is little
sophisticated equipment. Trucks capable of carrying whole containers to the hinterland do not
exist. The roads are too narrow and winding to accommodate container trucks. The result is
that the port remains clogged with containers, still not unpacked. New materials arrive and the
capacity to deal with these arrivals is hampered by the backlog. These problems emphasise
the advantages of financial contributions.

All donations of medical supplies must comply with the Guidelines for Donations of Drugs,
Consumables, Equipment and Assets to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. In addition,
it is important to comply with all the steps associated with shipping and to have all the
necessary paper work at hand to facilitate clearance. Port fees are normally charged for goods.
This is an acceptable means of raising revenue for a new country with very limited avenues
for revenue raising. However, tax exemption can be arranged through the Ministry of Health.
The Ministry document, Exemption of Customs Duty and/or Tax upon Importation of Goods
into Timor-Leste, explains the process.

Safe birthing options
A number of factors discourage women from attending formal health services for delivery of
their babies. The relationship between midwives and traditional birth attendants will need to
be strengthened to help overcome some barriers to safe delivery. When asked in the
Department of Health survey who they consulted on delivery, 12 per cent responded ‘no one’.
Some reasons why women choose to deliver at home include: traditional beliefs that women
may be violated; lack of confidentiality; and lack of privacy. Te health facility may be far
from home and women are responsible for their families, homes and animals even when the
delivery of their child is imminent. There is a perception that some health workers have
unpleasant attitudes, making home delivery a nicer, less stressful part of a day’s work.

Because there is still no official reporting system, it is not possible to calculate an accurate
maternal mortality rate, and the number of reported Caesarean sections is very low, due to

inadequate referral. However, it is known that both maternal and perinatal mortality are
exceptionally high so the presence of trained birth attendance at delivery is extremely

An important innovation being developed to overcome the barriers to safer delivery is the
establishment of maternal waiting houses which will be friendly houses, set up and equipped
like homes in communities, close to a health centre where there will be appropriate staff and
medical equipment. Women will be able to live in these houses with family members while
they wait for their infant to be born. All women beyond 36 weeks gestation will be eligible
and women from high risk groups, especially from rural areas, should be prioritised. The
waiting house will be linked into the referral system so obstetric emergencies can be predicted
and managed appropriately.

Family planning
High fertility remains a problem but because of the strong negotiation with community and
church leaders, family planning, as opposed to child spacing, is now openly discussed and
included in Ministry of Health policy documents. High fertility is characteristic of post-
conflict settings (Baden 1997). It is considered by Ministry staff and those involved in the
DHS that high fertility may be largely due to the lack of knowledge of how to avoid
conceiving. The survey results indicated that there is little discussion between men and
women on family size.

Budget concerns
It is recognised that factors affecting health run across many sectors. There is some concern
that the budgets of other sectors are not sufficient to cover health initiatives. The question has
been raised as to whether the Ministry of Health should supply funds to other sectors to
undertake initiatives that have an impact on health. However, it is more likely that the various
sectors have not been orientated sufficiently to understand how their activities can be
undertaken to have a positive impact on health without requiring extra funds. There is
insufficient awareness of the need to ask the Ministry how they can help. The challenge is to
raise awareness in various sectors.

In some instances legislation is the key to health improvements. For example, breastfeeding
plays such an important part in the health of children that legislation against feeding bottles
except on prescriptions, as in Papua New Guinea, would make a significant contribution.
Tobacco control legislation is being formulated. Health literacy in community leadership can
be fostered. Healthy village competitions as in the Solomon Islands may provide a useful
model. Community health committees may be more capable of solving intersectoral issues
and involving sectors at the local level than are national committees at the central level.

Another example from the Pacific, local women’s clubs, may be of interest in Timor-Leste. In
Samoa the activities of village women’s committees helped reduce maternal mortality
significantly. Local environmental issues such as breeding grounds for vectors might be
addressed by community health committees. It was suggested that paid jobs could be created
for maintaining the environment. In the meantime the use of bed nets is being encouraged
throughout Timor-Leste.

The Church members’ interest group was concerned to keep alive the call for justice in the
Timor Sea negotiations between Timor-Leste and Australia. The issues around Timor Sea oil
and gas are not yet resolved; and advocacy with Minister Downer could still be effective. [A
specialist workshop was convened with some of the members of the Timor Sea Justice
Campaign who updated the group on recent developments and explained how progress had
been made from Timor standing to gain 18 per cent of Greater Sunrise at the beginning of the
year to a likely 50 per cent.]

While recognizing the dilemma Timor Leste faces in attempting to take the Indonesian
perpetrators to an International Tribunal for the 1999 atrocities, the Church members group
felt it necessary for them to be held accountable for spiritual healing and justice. As Timor-
Leste lacks the capacity to promote this, and has other urgent priorities, the churches could
advocate on their behalf but only after careful research.

The group also felt that Churches in Australia who are involved with churches in Timor
should work together more, in particular to care for visitors, students; and to promote contacts

with the growing ecumenical movement within Timor Leste. This should not be too
Australia-centric and could involve linking Timor with other churches in the region.

Listen to the people so the churches can provide a clear and consistent message on
reproductive health. Education on family planning and HIV/AIDS is essential.

The governance sectoral group, along with the youth and women’s interest groups, all
emphasised the importance of consulting young people and women on the issues concerning
the future of their country. Despite Timor-Leste having a reasonably large percentage of
women, and also young people, in the Parliament, there is still marginalisation and by far the
largest number of people in poverty are women. Many Australian students have become
involved in supporting student organizations in Timor-Leste. In December 2005, the Students’
Union of Dili Institute of Technology will host a number of Australian students in their

The business group recommended socially responsible investment in Timor-Leste and warned
of dangers of ‘fast-tracking’, however they also called for improved and faster
communications, a one-stop shop and an integrated website for government regulations from
all departments covering investment. There was considerable interest in the tourism sector
with a number of business people attending the conference so they could find out how to
invest in this sector. Dili Institute of Technology has a hospitality and tourism certificate
course and welcomed making contact with such people. They had the following
 develop a legal framework to provide certainty for investment and, given recent
legislation, its implementation;

 establish of an efficient administrative process regarding investment, reducing delay
and burden of paperwork;

 make available a single package in hard copy of government requirements, linking
separate departmental requirements and a one-stop shop for information;

 develop policies to ensure non-exploitative investment, embedding a requirement for
social responsibility in investment through an effective regulatory framework;

 establish side-by-side training by companies;

 coordinate government/business/training institutions and structured work placements
and mentoring; and

 establish micro credit/finance for micro businesses, building on and supporting local
initiatives and skills eg textiles in rural areas, with a marketing strategy included.

The Alternative Technology Association displayed some of their solar generators, tanks, solar-
wind-up radios, solar phone chargers and solar street lighting they are installing in some
districts in Timor-Leste. There was debate on many of the classic rural technology issues:
composting toilets versus those using water; iron roofs versus traditional roofing; and
rainwater tanks versus underground water. Interestingly Australians and Timorese have
exactly the opposite views on whether rainwater or underground water is purer. It was useful
to discuss these differences and to realise that the selection of technology for each purpose
needs to be made with regard to its social context, economic sustainability and environmental
impact and not just its status.

Disappointment with the effectiveness of aid may have something to do with our material
approach which overlooks the important pre-conditions of success. Tied to this, is our
expectations that people can jump through stages and processes of education in less than a
generation. However, certain activities can only be sustained if the already existing
educational levels and socio-organisational arrangements permit them to do so. When
considering hand-crafts, particularly weaving, as marketable products to help free women
from the burdens of poverty, we need to begin where artisans are at, not where we expect
them to be. Handworks, such as tais, are crafted within a particular cultural frame for a
specific use. The thinking of the weaver is vastly different to that of a producer whose textiles
will be consumed in a western market. The latter must respond to the fickle nature of western
consumers who demand diversity, originality, value for money and flawless presentation.
However the inspiration of tais weavers is not bounded by the expectations of a market
economy. The traditional textile, though it may be slightly longer or wider than required, is
valued for its ceremonial function and the weaver for her role in cultural continuity.
Accordingly, notions of design, aesthetics and quality are associated with local customs. If we

are to help women increase their capacity to respond to western demands, we must
acknowledge traditional frameworks and concede that time is needed. After all, Australian
design students are offered three years to ready themselves for market entry. Embracing the
‘slowliness’ and cultural pace of communities in Timor-Leste is one of the factors that will
help sustain handcrafts projects in the long-term.

The session focussed on the fusion of cultural preservation and economic development
through handcrafts to create sustainable livelihoods for women in Timor-Leste. We identified
communications, quality control, design, marketing and distribution as being the major
barriers, and discussed ways in which they could be overcome. It was recognised that
collaboration, networking and cooperation between groups in Australia and Timor-Leste are
principles to underpin sustainable approaches. The nature of solidarity purchases of
handcrafts provides a space for women to cultivate their skills while more enduring strategies
are developed. A system that decentralises manufacture and centralises distribution and
marketing emerged as a feasible and sustainable strategy to support rural women, improve
quality and resolve the distribution problem. Beba’s participation provided a snap shot of
women’s situations and informed the direction of the discussion.

The link between poverty and social problems was one of the major themes that emerged
during the women’s interest group workshops. The East Timorese participants advised us that
increasing women’s access to income will help reduce the impact of domestic violence on
women in Timor-Leste. However, economic development approaches must recognise that
women hold solutions to their own problems. Projects must not be imposed but rather
undertaken in partnership with women. Filomena Reis discussed the need to transform
mentalities especially in relation to gender issues. Rosa da Sousa spoke about the cross-
gender approach of Fokupers that included men in their work to stop domestic violence. She
also noted that by working with men’s organisations, men take on the role of raising
awareness of women’s issues in the community. Other issues discussed included the structural
difficulties that prevent women from being closer to politics, the legal system and the
importance of learning from East Timorese women. A commitment was made to develop a
data base of organisations and to create communication strategies aimed at sharing
information amongst groups both within and outside Timor- Leste. The conference provided a
great opportunity for collective dialogue and focussed on the need to work alongside Timor-

Leste women and their existing organisations, in a spirit of solidarity, cooperation and
Beba Sequiera identified land tenure as one of the barriers women face when wanting to start
small enterprises. As land passes from father to son, women cannot use land title to secure
credit from the bank. Beba spoke about the advantages of micro-credit schemes, especially
those that include training and marketing initiatives. She indicated that the local market lacks
the capacity to support small handcrafts enterprises and too often women are disappointed
when they can’t sell their produce. She also noted the difficulty this creates for many local
NGOs delivering projects for larger donors, and was certain that projects without sustainable
marketing strategies will fail. She also emphasized the need for Australian women to respond
to assessments made by women’s organisations such as Rede Feto.


For more effective collaboration and cooperation it was agreed that Friendship Groups

 link activities with the National Development plan and the Sector Investment
Programs and be aware of Timor-Leste policy development;
 be aware of, learn what other friendship groups are doing, and collaborate with them,
 be aware that the Victoria Local Governance Association (VLGA) is an information
store-house and plays an active role in information dissemination and is accessible
 provide support for volunteers who are the lifeblood of groups;
 share with each other our vision of the future;
 document our experience and practice - both good and bad;
 link with other sectors;
 link collectively around specific issues;
 establish interest groups to learn from each other and work collectively;
 mentoring should be provided by well established groups for new groups;
 hold an annual conference; and
 develop protocols on accountability and transparency.