Over two days from 1 to 2 July, Victoria University and the Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa'e (UNTL) presented a conference titled Engaging Young People in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili.
It was the sixth biennial joint conference to focus on issues facing Timor-Leste’s development and delve into the United Nations SDGs – and part of VU’s decades-long commitment to the southeast Asian nation.
Themes covered sustainable agriculture, health, entrepreneurship, climate action and gender equity with contributions from government officials including the Education Minister (and VU alumnus) H.E. Dr Dulce de Jesus Soares, MP Hon. Nelia Menezes, and notable Timorese researchers including Dr Ego Lemos and former UNTL rector Dr Aurelio Guterres.
The conference provided an insight into the country’s present and future, and how the next generation is positioning itself as an agent of change. With 50% of the nation’s population under the age of 18, the attendees, predominately senior secondary-school and university students, sensed their importance and role in the development of Timor-Leste.
Many left feeling inspired and empowered as part of this process. Valeria, 18 years old, described how the conference helped her to understand more about the issues facing women and girls:
“When I go back to my community, I will tell them to be more productive and to prevent the problems that they face so they can focus on their study and how to achieve their goals and to be successful in the future.”
Another attendee, 17-year-old Sergio, felt that the conference provided guidance on how to contribute towards his country in a sustainable manner:
“The main reason I attended this conference was because it related to youth and it reminds me as a youth to participate in the process that’s running in this country, and to develop my beloved country with the things I learnt here.”
With a history of Portuguese colonisation, Indonesian occupation, and internal conflict to reach independence in 2002, Timor-Leste is still on the road to recovery and unity. The UNTL-VU partnership, and VU’s commitment to this young country, is an important role to play through advocacy, support and advice.
A number of Timorese VU Alumni also attended or presented at the conference. VU was represented at the conference by the Hon. Dr Jean McLean, VU Special adviser on Timor Leste, along with College of Arts and Education Chair of Postgraduate International Community Development, Jeannie Rea. Timor-Leste specialist and VU alumni Dr Ann Wigglesworth organised the conference in Australia and Timor Leste with the assistance of Engagement and Government Relations staff Kerry O’Neill and Katrina Gubbins, and VU alumni Joni Chung looking after logistics in-country. Former academic staff member and VU honorary fellow Dr Helen Hill, now resident in Dili, continued to provide critical support and advice.
A conference report is currently in development, which will outline the SDG findings and recommendations and the key outcomes and benefits from this unique collaboration.