VSA Timor-Leste Programme Development Officer Cindy Mendonca

Adversity drives innovation. That was the case when border closures stopped volunteers from travelling into Timor Leste. With assignments to complete, and no Kiwi volunteers available, VSA’s Timor-Leste Programme Development Officer Cindy Mendonca drew on her personal experience.

Cindy had spent four years studying in New Zealand on a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade development scholarship. As an active alumna she was aware that students were coming home looking for ways to use their New Zealand experience and education.

The match was a good one. In 2021 five Timorese students were placed in assignments that had been adapted for local lockdown.

Liria Da Silva was one of those students and she found a place in Knua Juventude Fila-Liman (KJFL) - a United Nations Development Programme sponsored centre for youth innovation and employment.

Having just returned home from a four-year stint at Auckland University of Technology studying applied science and environmental science the assignment as a Junior Waste Management specialist was perfect for her.

VSA Volunteer, Liria Da Silva

“Two things motivated me to take environmental courses,” Liria says, “Firstly, when I worked at Bairo Pite Clinic (a free healthcare non-government organisation (NGO) in Dili), I saw that most of the children were affected by dengue fever and malaria. One of the causes of dengue fever and malaria is improper waste disposal.

“Secondly, East Timor is a developing country, with construction happening all over the territory, and this contributes a lot to air and water pollution which then creates health problems.

Liria’s assignment is focused on promoting recycling. The programme increases public awareness and knowledge of sustainable waste management and promotes integrated recycling based on the “4R” approach (review, reduce, reuse and recycle).

Her achievements so far have included helping to drive an awareness campaign on Tiktok and establishing Loja Matak (The Green Store), which has provided a space for local groups and businesses to sell recycled and upcycled goods. It’s a great meeting of environmental and economic sustainability.

“The initiative is part of the community-based Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF), which is operated by a local NGO called REDE HASATIL and serves as an integrated space to separate and treat waste with core technologies for composting, plastic repurposing, as well as a community garden and of course the green store.

TikTok competition winners at Loja Matak

“Establishing Loja Matak has been my dream job because it encourages young recycling businesses to explore their creativity using waste products.”

Creativity was also core to the TikTok challenge that Liria helped run. The challenge was a response to waste management problems caused by Tropical Cyclone Seroja and aimed to engage youth in the conversation about managing waste sustainably.

Judging was based on innovation and impact. The uptake was great with ideas ranging from creating planters and weaving baskets from waste plastic, to peer-to-peer presentations on best practice recycling, to sustainable shopping demonstrations set to pop music.

Upcycled products at Loja Matak

For Liria the work is incredibly rewarding and there’s still more to do. “It’s fun and motivating to work with youth recycling businesses and communities, and I want to continue to work with young recycling businesses to explore their talents in waste products and to raise public awareness about waste management.” 

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