Written by Benjamin Berger
It has been three weeks since I set foot in the vibrant capital of Timor-Leste, setting out to volunteer for SCOPE ASIA. Over these weeks, the initial bustle of roaring microlets, persistent taxi drivers and tireless locals, selling anything from coconuts to live chickens, has given way to the more tranquil side of Dili. With their friendly, generous and open hearts, the people of Timor-Leste have welcomed me into their country. Although three weeks is not long enough by far to understand the workings of this young democracy, first impressions have undoubtedly made their mark.
Over the past years, Scope Asia has maintained a good relationship with the East Timor Development Agency (ETDA). It was here that I spent my first three weeks of my stay, teaching anything from English, business management and Swiss cuisine. While teaching and interacting with young hospitality and tourism students I immediately experienced their bursting curiosity and willingness to learn. This became even more apparent when teaching Timorese war veterans the basics of starting a business; they are willing to learn anything, from the absolute basics to the highly complex. More importantly, they do this with great appreciation. It seems that the Timorese not only value knowledge for its complexity, but also for the implicitness and openness with which it comes.
This is of course deeply humbling, as many will lend an ear to anything I have to say. It does however, shed some light on the difficult circumstances Timor-Leste has faced in the past, and still faces at present. The country has been the ground for international conflicts and interests over the past 300 years. Despite its independence in 2002, Timor-Leste now faces the problems its previous occupiers never addressed: weak infrastructure, poor education and a slow-growing economy. These difficulties are omnipresent and will challenge the country for years to come.
It is here that efforts of organisations such as the ETDA show their true value. The school has managed to create a learning environment that offers young students good practical education, preparing them for the challenges ahead. Most importantly, it satisfies the curiosity and motivation that is unmistakable in Timorese youth. It is with great pleasure that I have been able to contribute to this remarkable school and share whatever knowledge I could give.