VSA has been in Timor-Leste since 2002. We work alongside Timorese people in government, the private sector, local urban and rural NGOs, and with International NGOs to support the economic, social and environmental development of this new country.

In 2007 VSA was forced to suspend its programme following a period of civil unrest but was able to return in November 2008. Following the election results in April 2012, VSA reaffirmed plans to extend our programmes in Timor-Leste. VSA has a field office in Dili, staffed by a Programme Manager and Programme Coordinator and works closely with the NZ Embassy.

There are 1,225,000 people living in Timor-Leste (formerly known as East Timor).  Timor-Leste is one of the world's newest nations and the newest in Southeast Asia with history of colonisation and occupation.  Timor-Leste became independent in 2002, after it suffered a violent history through decades of struggle for independence from Indonesia. As a young nation, Timor-Leste is moving from a post-conflict fragile state to quickly transition as a developing resilient nation.  Timor-Leste is now focused on building its governance and public service delivery, improving and rebuilding infrastructure, reversing economic hardship and poverty, along with improving education and health.

Timor-Leste has a young population (62% under 25) and along with having a very short time to run its own country, there is often a lack of experience in key positions in all sectors of the workforce, VSA volunteers are in a good position to work alongside managers and employees including building the capacity of dedicated, optimistic and driven young professionals who are contributing to building their nation.

Timor-Leste is the second most oil-dependent economy in the world with the country’s offshore natural gas and oil reserves providing the majority of Government funds, this resource is unsustainable, so other income-generating sources are being investigated. Coffee is the main private sector export commodity, while aid money continues to support a wide range of economic and social development including in infrastructure and construction.


What we’re doing in Timor-Leste 

In 2019-2020, VSA volunteers undertook 33 assignments with 20 partner organisations in Timor-Leste, and since 2021 has piloted a local volunteer programme and operated an e-volunteer programme. 

The need to combine economic development with social development continues to drive VSA’s work in Timor Leste and provides a platform to develop strong partnerships and impactful assignments.   

VSA’s ongoing relationship with HAFOTI is an example of a partnership that continues to provide economic development opportunities such as increasing exports, while also establishing HAFOTI women as social leaders in their communities. HAFOTI continues to be a success story with the collective beginning to develop its export markets and HAFOTI women leading their communities to develop potable water and higher quality diets.

VSA supports the development of capacity to build economic resilience, focusing on creating an enabling business environment and youth entrepreneurship, to help support Timor-Leste’s large youth population to create jobs and income generating enterprises. 

We also continue to support our partners in Timor Leste with youth entrepreneurship training, business planning and mentoring, English language training, IT skills, governance and institutional capacity and human resource development. Early childhood education in another area where VSA continues to engage.  

VSA’s ongoing relationship with the Xanana Gusmao Reading Room in Timor-Leste has most recently involved the work done by Hugo Egan who volunteered as a Marketing and Library Coordination Assistant. Hugo was a VSA volunteer through the UniVol Programme. 

Looking to volunteer in Timor Leste and want to know what living there is like for our VSA volunteers? Check out this great short video by Adam Constanza: