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Sustainable Development from the Perspective of the Young People of East Timor

Mariano Sabino

Coordinator, Conselho Presidium Juventude Lorico Asswain/PJLA


The human phenotype is shaped by interaction between the genotype and the environment. The genotype itself is continually changing due to chromosomal mutations that are either spontaneous, or are caused by the environment.  This encourages people to always take note of environmental factors, as they are one of the determining factors of human life. I will explore the prerequisites for sustainable development, and young people’s potential to influence the development process.  I would like to begin with several critical questions for reflection in terms of the aims and philosophy of development: who are the agents of development? Who is development for? What are the stages and processes of development, and what is the natural resource and human resource potential of East Timor? Answers to these critical questions are key guides to development in third world countries, and to the development of an economic framework for East Timor.  Approached in this way, our concept of development will be realistic and pragmatic and will be able to address the needs of society.


Development has the aim of improving the quality of human. The philosophy of development is for humans to improve ourselves, and to live our lives in a wholistic, equitable and independent way. During this transitional period, people’s lives are changing. East Timorese people were previously under the of rule of colinisers, experiencing oppression, fear, inequality, a lowering of our humanity, abuse of our rights, and negation of our culture.  This was followed by the burning of our houses.  Now we have a development paradigm that is liberating, is more democratic, appreciates the value of humanity and equality, and guarantees the safety and well being of the people. Thus development is not oriented to the pursuit of economic growth, but to a form of development that is participatory, wholistic and equitable.


From the perspective of young people, sustainable development is development that has the aim of fulfilling the needs of today’s generation in a way that will not prevent the needs of future generations being met.


Young People are the potential for Sustainable Development

History has shown the potency and strength of youth in curing the disease of pessimism that is caused by exhaustion and resignation while facing the strength of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Youth have risen up as the pioneers of revolution - transforming pessimism into optimism and a fighting spirit - leading to victory and glory. The thesis that youth are the backbone of the nation is relevant for every age.  Youth are dynamic and can adapt to the various demands of every time and place.


The youth of East Timor are the ones who carried weapons and became guerillas, and so they never received formal education, are the ones who were given birth to by mothers who while pregnant had to bear hunger and meanwhile also provide food and vitamins to their families, who when they were small bore their hunger and thirst, lacking in vitamin’s and immunisation, who could not go to school, or had to stop school because their parents were not financially able to pay the school fees or buy school equipment, who finished high school but were not given the opportunity to attend university, because they did not pass the tertiary entrance test, or because of the KKN selection system (corruption, collusion and nepotism), who left the school system to become wanted people by the Indonesian police and military because of their activities in opposing the Indonesian invasion, and so university studies were not completed because of their political activities. Some were able to finish their studies, and others went with their parents as refugees to Portugal or Australia. Those who left East Timor could be educated to a higher level, or at least could be able to communicate in Portuguese or English. In a political and sociological sense, the youth of East Timor have been brought up by resistance and violence that together have influenced their character and intellectual development.


Development of the potential of youth in East Timor

In a political sense, youth must continue to be given a place to participate in the development of national policies. There must be as much involvement as possible from youth and from the people as a whole in policy development. The content of the policies must reflect the problems of the majority of the population, and of youth.

In a legal sense, this is the first time that East Timor has experienced independence. Thus a total reorganisation of all aspects of human life, from oppression to independence is required. The law under the Indonesians was one of the instruments of oppression. What is needed is knowledge of the law followed by enforcement of the law.

In the field of Human resources, formal and informal education will guarantee a strong foundation for sustainable development. Human resources are the key to sustainable development.

Human resource development must include the following:

-         The compilation of an informal/basic curriculum that is adapted to the needs of sustainable development at the sub-district and village level.  What is needed is a curriculum for those youth who have not continued their formal education, oriented towards particular kinds of work, such as: small-scale farming (agrobusiness), trade, and private business.

-         Financial support to the districts is needed via bank credits for cross-borrowing cooperatives.

-         Training that emphasises specific fields of employment (on a large and varied scale).

-         Planning a vision and mission for education with paradigm of Ukun Rasik (self determination).

-         Community education (elimination of illiteracy)

-         A large increase in the number of students in technical education, to help strengthen the private as well as the public sector.

-         Planning for guest discussions and guest lecturers at the Masters and PhD level for knowledge exchange.

-         Planning for free computer and language courses (like those held by the Student Solidarity Council and IMPETTU) to meet the needs of all interested students.

-         Government monitored provision of food to pregnant mothers, children, and those in need of food to ensure the health of children and provide sufficient nutrition for brain development.


In the area of employment, employment opportunities need to be developed, in accordance with the natural resource capacity and needs of East Timor.  The system of payment for work based on the degree language mastery needs to be abolished.

For the environment, a campaign for environmental awareness is needed (to prevent illegal burning and logging) and a reforestation program (agreed upon in the national calendar, with monthly planting days).

The provision of clean water and sanitation facilities so as to guarantee cleanliness and health.


Environmental Impact Studies, social and cultural impact studies, and health impact studies can be used as planning tools for every development program, in order to guarantee sustainable development.


The Environment in East Timor

The environment in East Timor has been destroyed by shifting agriculture practised by traditional farmers, and by wars in East Timor.  The impacts of war and colonisation in East Timor began with the Portuguese. Hunting was a Portuguese pass-time, for which they burnt the forests (the shelter of deer, wild pigs, bulls, and other game). Environmental destruction was made worse by the Indonesian occupation.  The Indonesians not only burnt the forests but also burnt people’s houses. Their hunting spread from wild animals to also hunting people. In short, all the aspects of life for East Timorese people have been destroyed.


Transitional Period

In a short period of time the shift has been made from no development at all, to a plethora of programs that have already been implemented by UNTAET. Even so, there are several important points that we must focus upon in this conference, including:


1.      The slow pace of reconstruction (with no vision, phasing of development, transparent priorities and local participation in development planning).

2.      Many small demountable offices are being used by UNTAET.  The clear indication is that when UNTAET leaves, those offices will disappear.

3.      Handling of public health facilities like clean water supply and sanitation facilities.

4.      Only Dili port is being used. This results in slow loading and unloading of goods, and a backlog of containers, while the Com-Lautem port is not being renovated, however it should also be used on an international scale.

5.      Lack of town planning by UNTAET Dili District is resulting in damage to of parks, as they are being used as market places.

6.      Education should be made a priority, in terms of both financial support for infrastructure, and human resources. Lack of provision of education facilities adds to unemployment. Further, several primary schools in the interior of East Timor have been threatened with closure.  

7.      Lack of regulation of importation of goods and food into East Timor, with the result that there are many unusable second hand cars littering Dili, and expired food is being sold in the supermarkets.

8.      The problem of personal safety, is that law enforcement (by Civpol) is not maximally exercised, adding to social unrest.

9.      The damage to bridges and roads in several places causes great difficulties for people living in affected areas to fulfill their needs.


These issues are obstacles to sustainable development. This discussion invites us to be more proactive in working with UNTAET for the sustainability of development in East Timor. 



Social and cultural aspects are key to discussions about sustainable development. Development in East Timor should not only pursue growth, but should consider social prosperity indicators, and the fair and equal participation of the community.

We have organised many seminars and conferences whose aims are only written, but never realised. Hopefully this conference will not do the same thing.

I would like to thank the organising committee who have worked hard to bring us together for this conference. Hopefully East Timor will become a nation that is green and prosperous. This is the hope of all the children of the nation of East Timor.