Twenty-one years of volunteering in Timor-Leste was celebrated on Wednesday 15 March 2023 as part of the Volunteer Service Abroad Te Tūao Tāwahi’s (VSA) acknowledgement of over 4000 VSA volunteers. It is the first of many celebrations planned across the Pacific to honour our significant 60-year long history.  

A strong relationship with the New Zealand Embassy meant the celebrations were held at the Embassy in Dili and His Excellency Mr Phil Hewitt spoke about the work of VSA and its volunteers.  

His Excellency Mr. President, Dr José Ramos Horta, who is also the Goodwill Ambassador of Volunteerism attended as honoured guests, sharing his thoughts with partners and volunteers, followed by television interviews with local shows GMN and TVTL. 


Kate Wareham, VSA Te Tumu Whakarae travelled to Timor-Leste to join Programme Manager Cindy Mendonca and Programme Coordinator Jacob de Sousa in the festivities with shared cake, waiata, and a traditional performance dance.   

Kate reflected on the past few years with border restrictions and felt honoured to have been able to attend the event saying, “I am pleased to celebrate here in Timor-Leste. This is an important programme for VSA. 

VSA has proven our ability to adapt quickly to change and we hold close connections to the many hands that make our community what it is today.  We look to the future and how New Zealand volunteers can support our partners to make meaningful and long-last change.”  

Live performance created a festive atmosphere

 The VSA Timor-Leste office opened in the early 2000s and the first volunteer arrived in 2002. Exert from the book New Zealand Abroad. The story of VSA’s work in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, page 110.

VSA’s East Timor programme began in October 2001. Dallas Roy, a former army officer with peacekeeping and disaster recovery experience in Asia and the Pacific, was appointed VSA’s programme development officer in Dili. 

Within six months, the first three volunteers had been appointed: forester Matthew Hall, refrigeration technician Rowan Hains, and electric motor technician Michael Horsney. Further assignments in vocational training, early childhood and agriculture are being investigated.  

Over the years VSA’s has focused on education, agriculture and food security. This year our programme is also supporting New Zealanders skilled in marketing, communication, and value chain development to work with partners. Volunteers will also work alongside partners to enable women and young people in business through training programmes.  

The New Zealand government funds the scholarship programme and finances Timorese people to study at New Zealand universities. During border closures in 2021, we saw value in connecting VSA partners with New Zealand scholarship programme graduates. 

“We are proud of our local volunteering initiative in Timor-Leste and continue to consider how this is part of the way VSA works in the future. VSA also connected people remotely through our e-volunteer programme. All these programmes are important, and we reinvent ourselves as the world changes.” says Kate. 

Waiata and speakers including His Excellencies Phil Hewitt and Dr José Ramos Horta, and Kate Wareham


Kate concluded her speech at the 60th event with the words “Ami espera katak ho VSA nian servisu bele fo impactu nebe positivu ba komunidade, povu no nasaun Timor-Leste” (We hope that our work can give a positive impact on the community, people in general, and the nation of Timor–Leste.)  

We have a lot to do, but today we celebrate what we have done. 

Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi – With your basket of knowledge and ours, all of us will thrive. Together, we work towards building a world with thriving communities, and because of you all, we have already greatly impacted the lives of many.”  

Partners and volunteers joined VSA in celebrating

Related Material