Just weeks into my new assignment in Timor-Leste, I was thrilled to be traveling with a group of colleagues to the country’s remote exclave of Oecusse. By catching a ride on a UN helicopter, our team was able to cut out nearly a day of travel, including clearing the four border checkpoints required to make the trip overland. Located geographically within the borders of Indonesia, the district is separated from the rest of Timor-Leste not only spatially, but culturally and linguistically as well. Throughout our visit we would often need two translators, one between the local language (Baikeno) and the national language (Tetum), and a second translator between Tetum and English.
After arriving in the district capital of Pante Makassar, our team immediately jumped into vehicles and set out on our mission to see several of USAID’s projects. As we drove through the district, bouncing along dirt roads, winding through hills, and scuttling across dry river beds, it was plain to see how many of the already difficult-to-reach villages become completely inaccessible during the rainy season. Contributing to the district’s isolation is its poor infrastructure, with few all-weather roads, underdeveloped networks for water and sewage, and an insufficient electrical grid. Even the district capital receives only 12 hours of electricity per day, punctuated by frequent power outages. As the Economic Growth Team Leader at USAID Timor-Leste seeing the district for the first time, my thoughts immediately turn to the enormous challenge of trying to link the people of these remote areas with the rest of their country, let alone the world economy. Yet USAID is helping to do just that.
In the town of Pune, our team met with several farmers who participate in USAID’s cattle fattening project. Through a cooperative association, these small farmers are able to receive veterinary medicine from the Timorese government and husbandry advice for the cattle they raise. Without the project these farmers would be unable to import their own medicines and would be vulnerable to price fluctuations in distant markets. Through the cooperative, these farmers are given a pre-negotiated price for their cattle so that they know in advance that they will be able to reap the benefits of their hard work.