Take a deep breath! The fresh air and green nature in the mountainous area of Maubisse is astonishing. However, the journey from Dili, the capital of Timor Leste, to Maubisse requires a bit of an adventurous attitude.
Last November the 70 kilometers ride took three hours along the road that was under construction until halfway but already in heavy use. At the same time, as road construction workers with machinery tried to make progress, trucks were delivering supplies to mountain villages, and colorfully decorated buses were commuting workers between their homes and Dili. In the rainy season, the unpaved road became hazardous.
Scenic Maubisse is a popular weekend destination for townies, but it aims to attract foreign tourists too. Tourism is seen as a lever to improve the country's crappy economy, but there are many challenges to confront, for example, the travel infrastructure is still inadequate. For instance, when entering the country, you must have enough US dollars in cash because ATMs are not available, and the only credit card acceptance is Visa Card.
The currency is the US dollar, which makes everyday life expensive, even for wealthy travelers. It makes me wonder how people in one of the poorest countries in the world can survive.
Water, food, and shelter
Life in isolated villages is made of simple things - to satisfy the basic needs of water, food, shelter, and clothing. In Timor Leste, 70% of the population still lives in rural areas, and 40% below the poverty line.
It's an early afternoon at the market of Gleno village. A group of stallholders has crouched under the umbrella gossiping and chewing the betel leaf, the traditional stimulant which stains their teeth red.
They sell cassava and sweet potatoes. Every morning they pick up the products from the local farmers and walk an hour to the market. I cannot see any solvent customers and wonder how their business and livelihood is really doing.
Safe drinking water is one of the scarcities in the rural area. Leublora Green Village is an eco-school and organic farm in Maubisse. The aim is to empower the community by educating sustainable agriculture and creating business opportunities. The organic farm, for example, is a village-owned cooperative that produces flowers, strawberries, and vegetables for sale.
Eco-school has invested in a water purification system that provides drinking water for the students and the community. Villagers no longer need to bring their water from long distances.
Oil didn't lift people out of poverty
After the independence in 2002 Timor Leste got access to the oil resources of the Timorese Sea, which created hopes for the country's prosperity.
Oil accounts for 90% of government revenues, but oil price fluctuations bring instability to the economy, and as the price drops, more and more oil has to be exported.
Furthermore, the gas and oil industry has not brought the added value or desired jobs. For example, the country's first refinery is still under construction.
The first years after the independence government's primary function was to rebuild infrastructure and strengthen civilian administration since the years of occupation.
For the moment, the biggest challenge is to create jobs for young people entering labor markets. About 60% of the population is under 25 years old.
While other countries in Southeast Asia are reaping 5% annual economic growth, Timor Leste's economic growth is negative. The government's persistent problem is how to use the best way the current gas and oil revenues to increase economic growth, create jobs for young people, and reduce poverty.
Text: Tanja Harjuniemi