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The road to employment and livelihoods in Timor-Leste

Lack of access to schools, marketplaces and hospitals is a challenge for communities in Timor-Leste, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. An ILO initiative to rehabilitate rural roads is helping break their isolation, provide jobs and improve livelihoods.

Feature | 02 November 2020
Adelina da Silva
TIMOR-LESTE (ILO News) – It’s early in the morning as Adelina da Silva and Francisca Mendonça gather with co-workers to begin their shift. They will spend the day maintaining the winding road which connects Liurai, their village in the mountains of Timor-Leste, to the capital, Dili.

This is the first formal paid employment for either of the women. Da Silva previously helped carry out the household chores, whilst Mendonça, a mother of 12, took care of her family and supported her husband’s farming.

Together they help ensure that the road stays in good condition by clearing the drains, filling in potholes and cutting the roadside grass.

“I am proud of this job,” they both say.

The road rehabilitation is supported by ILO as part of the government of Timor Leste’s Roads for Development (R4D) programme, funded by the Government of Australia.

Providing access to markets and services, the roads are a lifeline to remote communities. By using a ‘labour-based’ approach, the programme brings employment opportunities to communities in rural areas, including people with disabilities, women and youth.

Mendonça remembers how her family had to walk for more than two hours to carry their farm produce to market, where they would sell it for some US$20.

“Now it only takes us 30 minutes by public transport to sell our produce in the market. We can also bring as much produce as possible, up to one hundred dollar’s worth,” she says.

Francisca Mendonça and her family
The road rehabilitation has also improved community health services, which are more important than ever during COVID-19. Once a month, Mendonça volunteers to promote basic primary health care services at community and household level.

Adelina da Silva also recalls the hardships the community faced to access schools and hospitals. “For so many years, we were isolated but now the ambulance can easily reach people who are in need of health care,” she said.

Maintenance on the 10.4 kilometre stretch of road is conducted three times a week and provides workers with a monthly income of US$60.

“I use some of the money to support my siblings, by paying for their school uniforms and books,” says da Silva. Mendonça adds that the extra money has helped finance some of her younger children’s schooling.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the maintenance work stopped for three months earlier this year. During the temporary closure the workers returned to farming. Now they are back to work and follow health protocols by wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and washing hands regularly.

In addition to the income, da Silva cherishes her working experience. “I have learned about team work. This job also gave me the confidence to get other work. After the pandemic I am going to apply to do seasonal fruit picking work in Australia. I wish to continue supporting my siblings’ education all the way to university, so I can watch them succeed.”

Augustus Asare, Chief Engineer Advisor for the R4D programme, also sees the very real benefits the initiative has brought. “The rehabilitation and maintenance of rural roads greatly improves the quality of life for rural communities. The use of community and local-resource based approaches also generates income for Timorese contractors and for persons living in communities who work on R4D projects,” he said.

R4D is the leading rural roads programme in Timor-Leste, supporting the development of the rural roads sector since 2012. The R4D project is implemented by the National Directorate for Roads, Bridges and Flood Control (DRBFC), through the Ministry of Public Works, with technical assistance from ILO and funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

For further information, please contact

Gita Lingga
Communications Officer
International Labour Organization

Denita Baptista
Communications Officer of R4D Project
International Labour Organization