Improving livelihoods in Timor Leste – inspiration for Rhodes Scholar

April 14, 2020

As part of our concerted efforts to support and encourage the next generation of Australians in study, careers and volunteering in international agricultural research, the Crawford Fund State Committees proudly support our Student Awards

These awards allow university students from around Australia to include an international component to their studies, to travel to their host countries to research and explore their chosen topic areas and gain international agricultural research experience and expertise.

Throughout 2019, we have enjoyed sharing the journey of our 2018 recipients of these Awards and their experiences have been diverse and overwhelmingly positive. They are available here.

We now proudly present to you the reports from our 2019 cohort as they complete their travels and research. To date we have reported on the experiences of Luke Dieters from the University of Queensland; Jori Bremer from the University of New England; Nadeem Akmal from the University of Canberra; Nina Matsumoto from the University of Sydney; Peter Richardson from the University of Melbourne; Charles Callaghan, William Davies and Rebecca Owen from Charles Sturt University and, most recently Daniel Waterhouse from Murdoch University, Cassandra Davitt from the University of Melbourne; and Bianca Das from the University of Queensland.

Our 2020 Student Awards in ACT, NSW and QLD have been extended due to the disruption to the university year caused by COVID-19 so check out the backgrounder and apply online before Monday 2 November 2020.

Oliver Gales from the University of Tasmania recently travelled to Timor Leste to be involved in an ongoing program supported by the Crawford Fund aimed at improving the livelihood and education opportunities for communities in Timor Leste. Since his return, Oliver has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and he will be the first ever to receive the scholarship to study sustainable agriculture. On receiving the scholarship, it was reported that Oliver feels that by learning how development can help disadvantaged people worldwide, and combining this with his existing knowledge of agricultural science, he aspires to find ways to meet the food production challenges of a growing world population.

We couldn’t be prouder than to think that our award played some part in this. Oliver travelled to Balibo in the western part of Timor Leste to learn, engage and contribute to a project addressing malnutrition and the standard of living in regional communities.

Currently people in the communities in and around Balibo walk several kilometres each day to reach reliable water sources, and this is usually done by children to the detriment of their time in school. The supply of water is a major limiting factor for the region in its pursuit of improving the standard of living. Through visiting and engaging with the local community and recently developed schools, a water supply plan was conceived that would not only improve access to clean potable water for more than 1000 people, but it would consequently allow the students to spend more time at school.

The success of this project is built around two major elements: it is locally led and supported to ensure it truly contributes to increased place-based capacity building for the local region and it targets impacts that compound to have greater impacts on the region. The latter is exemplified by the supply of water to schools allowing improved education opportunities for the youth. Improving the education of the young people is critical to the future of a country in which 60% of its population is under the age of 24. Importantly, this project can also be maintained into the future without ongoing international support.

Oliver (far right) visiting one of the schools where the water purification scheme will be implemented

“Experiencing the positive impacts that a strategic and locally constructive project is having has affirmed the contribution agricultural students can contribute to addressing global issues in a sustainable way,” said Oliver.

“Having this opportunity from receiving a Crawford Fund student award has allowed me to affirm my passion and interest in international and sustainable agriculture and is unique in giving undergraduate students the opportunity to learn in country and help fight the world’s fight,” he said.

Timor Leste gained independence in 2002 after suffering from decades of suppression. However, with the legacy of recovering from a devastating war, the country’s development with a population of 1.4 million has largely been focused around subsistence farming. Because of issues relating to quality and quantity of the food supply from the agricultural sector, over half the children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and as a result suffer physical and often mental stunting.

“The project I was involved with sought to address issues in regional communities of Timor Leste by focusing on capacity building and following initiative and impetus from the local community. In particular, the project sought to address a critical issue of water supply directly into the community and schools by developing infrastructure to allow a pump system for water supply into the community and specifically, to five schools. The water quality is then addressed through the addition of Skyhydrant water purifiers.”

Looking at a newly developed water pump station with local children near Balibo

“Travelling to the township and community surrounding Balibo, I engaged in this project by visiting the current natural water springs, schools and community with both local community leaders and member of the project to help develop and design the system to allow both the supply and purification of the water.

Being taught about a recently developed water collection point by Mario and Eurico near Balibo (left), and local children during their water collection in the afternoon after school (right)

“I saw and experienced first-hand the sustainable and long-term impacts agriculture development can have in equipping and importantly, empowering, a nation to achieve both an improved standard of living and level of independence at the same time.

 “This project has already had tangible impacts by facilitating the improvement of existing structures to allow a temporary water supply whilst the community driven main water purification scheme to the schools is being developed. Together we can achieve great outcomes.

“This project and my experiences in Timor Leste have relied on the generous support from the Crawford Fund. The success and positive tangible impacts that are currently being seen in Balibo are a credit to the ongoing support of the Crawford Fund. The community of Balibo is inspiring in its efforts to change the course of their recent history and offer a positive and empowered future for the next generation. I thank the community and region for accepting and inspiring me.”

“Thank you to the Crawford Fund for providing undergraduates students opportunities and experiences in international agriculture. These experiences have an amazing impact on inspiring the next generation to contribute positively to the standard of living globally.

“Finally, my sincere thanks to Richard Warner and Chris Thompson for their ongoing inspiration, guidance and mentoring. Obrigadu (Thanks in Timorese/Portuguese),” he concluded.