A huge group of smiling, enthusiastic majority East Timorese people at a conference
Photo: Katrina Gubbins

Over two days from 1-2 July 2019, Victoria University and the Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL) held 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 is part of Victoria University’s decades-long commitment to Timor-Leste.

Themes covered sustainable agriculture, health, entrepreneurship, climate action and gender equity with contributions from government officials including the Education Minister (and VU alumna) H.E. Dr Dulce de Jesus Soares and MP Hon. Nelia Menezes, and notable Timorese researchers including Rector Dr Aurelio Guterres.

The conference provided an insight into the country’s present and future, and how the next generation are positioning themselves as agents of change. With 50% of the nation’s population being 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 450 years of Portuguese colonisation, 24 years of Indonesian occupation, and a guerrilla struggle to finally achieve independence in 2002, Timor-Leste is taking control of its future. The UNTL-VU partnership, and VU’s commitment to this young country, has an important role to play through advocacy, support and advice.

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 alumna 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. VU alumnus Joni Chung looked 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 number of Timorese VU Alumni also attended or presented at the conference.

Contact us

Jeannie Rea
College of Arts & Education
Katrina Gubbins
Communications Coordinator
Precincts, Communities and Government Relations
+61 3 9919 5130

About the author

Katrina Gubbins is a Communications Coordinator for VU’s Precincts, Communities and Government Relations division.

About the article

This article is from the March 2020 edition of Voz Timor (Voice Timor), a VU-led publication that aims to draw attention to the ways in which Timor-Leste is making, and can continue to make, progress on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.