A couple of days ago, I asked on Instagram what kind of posts people would like to see on this blog. “I’ll have a lot of time to write in transit as I return to Perth for Christmas,” I explained in an Instagram Story. “What would you like to know more about?”
A lot of people were interested in hearing more about my work. So, this post describes what I’m talking about when I mention my job.
How I came to Timor-Leste
As you may know, I’m a participant in the Australian Volunteers for International Development program, which is a long-running, Australian Government-funded development initiative. It assigns skilled Australians to volunteer in countries like Timor-Leste, and supports us to train and mentor our local colleagues, so that the work that we’re skilled in continues after the end of our assignments.
I’m about halfway through an 18-month-long assignment as a communications mentor with a local agriculture organisation called RAEBIA Timor-Leste.
Me and my RAEBIA colleagues out the front of our office
While I’m technically a volunteer – RAEBIA doesn’t employ me – I call my role my job because it’s what I do during business hours and it’s what pays my rent. I work from 9am to 5:30pm five days a week, and while I receive no money from RAEBIA to work with them, I receive a living allowance from the AVID program, which enables me to support myself in Timor-Leste.
What’s my job?
I work in communications, which is a broad and confusing field that broadly covers how we share information. That could be:
- Internal organisational communications like emails, shared calendars, intranets, internal reports, databases, notice boards, internal policies and processes; or
- External communications like websites, brochures and posters, publications, social media, traditional media like newspapers and magazines, podcasts, email marketing, advertisements, photos, and videos.
RAEBIA requested an AVID volunteer to help them with social media management, website management, publications and donor reporting.
I’m also involved with a voluntary group called Timor Comms, which offers free workshops in communications skills. Here’s me presenting at the optimistically-titled workshop, “What is comms?”
What do I actually do?
I do an odd mix of different things, depending on whether I’m in the office or not.
If I’m in the office, I’ll write copy and articles for our website, create graphics and take photos for social media, and work with my colleagues to plan and schedule social media posts. I’ll train our staff to mock-up brochures and invitations using free software like Canva, plan out our annual report, and I’ve just finished editing eight articles we submitted to a donor, demonstrating the various ways in which we’re implementing their recommended best-practice agriculture development techniques. I’m also around for any questions staff have about things like setting up an email signature or formatting a document or helping with English grammar.
Occasionally, I’ll attend a workshop, training session or meeting with my boss outside of the office. That’s a lot of listening and practising Tetun as my boss contributes in sector consultations about things like new pesticide legislation or the government’s recommendation for Timor-Leste’s sector-wide approach to forestry development.
Sometimes I’ll have meetings of my own – I’m organising internships at RAEBIA for students from one of Dili’s international schools, and I’m looking for further funding opportunities to ensure the organisation’s financial sustainability.
And sometimes I go on field trips with my colleagues, to observe trainings they deliver in conservation agriculture techniques with farmers in rural districts. The above photo is from a trip to a RAEBIA partner research launch site in Baucau district.
What’s good about it?
- My colleagues are hardworking, eager to learn, friendly and very energising
- I learn new things about agriculture every day, and I’m very proud to be working at an organisation that does excellent, considered work in such an important sector for Timor-Leste
- I have autonomy and freedom to develop my own plans and make creative decisions
- It enables me to travel around Timor-Leste and visit farmers
- Life in Timor-Leste necessitates luxuriously long two-hour-long lunch breaks, to accommodate staff who return home at lunch to cook for children, and during frequent power outages in the office we have no choice but to migrate to the front verandah and eat mangoes and chit-chat
What’s bad about it?
- It’s challenging finding time to do training or work together, because my colleagues are often very busy
- Communications is a new area to Timor-Leste, which means that it’s not really a role considered critical here yet, which can be difficult to work with
- Tetun lacks vocabulary to explain some communications concepts
- Often communications can feel removed from the really important, hands-on work
- It’s difficult to be motivated in the humidity (see above re: mangoes on the verandah)
- While my colleagues speak good English, and my Tetun is improving, language barriers (somewhat ironically) make communicating difficult at times
A terrace construction training in Aileu district that I attended earlier this year
I chose to come to Timor-Leste as an AVID volunteer, rather than applying for a full-time job or volunteering independently, because I:
- Wanted to do something meaningful with my work
- Liked AVID’s approach to development, and
- Didn’t think I’d have the confidence to move overseas otherwise
I’d always had the idea of living overseas in the back of my mind, but fear and uncertainty made it seem enormous to me, and when I saw AVID roles advertised I knew the program could help me take a leap I couldn’t make by myself. I also knew I wanted to continue working in not-for-profits or for-good companies, and try as hard as I could to make my work matter to someone or something besides myself. And the AVID program’s focus on building local capacity and working side-by-side with local colleagues really resonated with me.
An easy choice.
I applied and interviewed in October 2016, received the news in November, and flew to Timor-Leste on the second of March, 2017. My assignment concludes in September 2018.
Another one of our team. How good is our tennis-ball green office?!
I’m happy to share anything else from my work, or tell you more about the AVID program. If you’re considering applying for AVID and have questions or want to know more about the program, please email me anytime!