Coincidentally, two different people have asked me this week how to find work in Timor-Leste. I do not consider myself particularly expert on this — in fact, I feel more like a hapless good-luck magnet who’s somehow flopped from job to job and remained gainfully employed for the entire time I’ve lived here — but I do have a few small thoughts to share for anyone curious about living and working in Timor-Leste.
This post is an edited, expanded version of an email I sent last week titled how to find work in Timor-Leste.
1. AVID assignments
I spent the first year I lived in Timor-Leste as an AVID volunteer, working at a local NGO called RAEBIA with financial support from the Australian government. This was the number one work option in my email, because it’s financially comfortable and well-supported in vital but tricky-to-organise areas like language-learning, friend-meeting, insurance-organising, context-learning, and in just having someone there to help you out if you get in trouble. It’s available to Australian and New Zealand citizens and Australian permanent residents.
“While I have some reservations and a degree of cynicism about the program, I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity [to be an AVID volunteer], and I really do thing it’s one of the best, most ethical models of foreign volunteering here.”
I’ve written a fair bit here about being an Australian volunteer — read about the AVID application progress, what I wish I knew before I started my AVID assignment, and why I decided to leave my assignment six months early. And I’m always happy to answer any questions about it.
“Another huge AVID bonus is that is gets you to Timor,” I wrote in that email. Thus, work-way number two: just be here.
2. Just be here
“Don’t do the horrible thing of accepting an AVID offer and then defecting two months in to take a lucrative consultancy with some huge INGO,” I cautioned. But I went on to explain that I have my day-a-week paid role at an agriculture research project because I fortuitously met my now-boss at a workshop I attended with my former RAEBIA boss about a year ago. “He wouldn’t have bothered finding a comms person if he hadn’t gotten me for cheap, and I wouldn’t have known about AI-Com were I not already in Timor with RAEBIA. I know it’s luxurious to say SIMPLY SUPPORT YOURSELF UNEMPLOYED FOR FREE IN THIS EXPENSIVE CITY but I’m willing to bet unemployment would last two months max, and it’s likely cheaper than being unemployed in Perth.”
You’ll meet people, you’ll attend events, you’ll see opportunities, you’ll know what’s going on, you’ll just get a feel for it in a way that’s difficult when you’re not here, I said.
The work I’ve had here has come from: being at that workshop and meeting my future boss; asking a friend how I could learn videography and being paired up with a visiting filmmaker who mentioned UNICEF was looking for writers; and from reading at the beach on an unemployed Tuesday and being approached by someone who followed me on Instagram about the job she was about to leave. And I’ve also been asked to apply for work because I sat next to a friend-of-a-friend at the pub, who told me while he waited for his pizza that he was looking for someone to join his team, and because I told a friend my contract was finishing, so she thought of me when she got an offer to apply for a consultancy.
The East Timor Action Network email list is a goldmine for news, jobs and opportunities in Timor-Leste. Subscribe to their email list, follow them on Twitter, try and figure out what roles and consultancies are available and why you might be able to do.
“You can also try and be a bit clever with ETAN,” I wrote. “If you see, for example, a couple of jobs advertised from the same person or the same project in a row, you can bet they’ve just had a grant approved, and it may be worth emailing the HR person separately to ask what else they’ll be recruiting for or what skills they need.”
4. Teach a language
There are so many foreigners and foreign aid bodies here that heaps of languages are worth knowing. Have a TESOL qualification and speak English, Portuguese, Indonesian, any Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalong, German, something else — you may be in luck.
“Why not,” I wrote, flippantly, to the friend who had asked about jobs just after finishing a master’s degree. But in all seriousness, Timor is a densely researched country and many Australian universities have relationships with institutions here. You may be able to do research fieldwork here with financial support from your institution.
6. Casual volunteering
Different from the structured AVID program (and its equivalents — Engineers Without Borders is another excellent formal, supported volunteering program), you could also suggest or fit in with a casual volunteering role, like my position at Plan International. There, I’m a communications volunteer who signed a one-year contract to help out our comms manager, and in exchange I receive a living allowance that pays my rent and groceries (side not, get in touch with me if you’re interested in this — we’re recruiting for my replacement!). I know someone who works at an aid-funded company here, switching between paid work and volunteering work depending on whether grants come through, and another friend supplements short-term consultancy work with skill-building volunteering in a local NGO.
In my email I described this as “far less lucrative [than AVID], but flexible and fun, and again it’s work and it’s here.”
Once you arrive (see point two), get out, meet people, go to events, go to workshops, go to happy hour, tell people who you are and what you’re doing and what you’re looking for, and they might know someone who could do with a hand.
7. Follow Facebook pages
“Get an idea of the kind of place you’d want to work at and follow them on Facebook to see their vacancies (eg Lao Hamutuk for economic research/analysis; Fundasaun Maheim for security/immigration),” I wrote, meaning like, figure out the kind of work you want to be doing by finding Timor-Leste organisations already working in those areas. See job vacancies and opportunities first, learn who funds what kind of work (organisations will always say who their program is funded by, which could give you another avenue if you’re skilled in a particular area), and potentially try to offer your services.
8. Look at embassies
There are heaps of embassies here (lots of foreign powers jostling for influence?) and many of them use English as a working language. If you’re a professional with English skills, you may be in luck. The Australian embassy is big and would be hiring reasonably frequently; and you’re more competitive for other embassies if you speak Korean or Thai or a European language.
9. Look at UN agencies
Finally, look to the United Nations agencies — there are heaps of them here and many (like the UNDP and UNICEF) are pretty big. They’re often hiring staff, contractors and consultants (“UNDP is seriously hiring for like, four roles every single time I check their website,” I wrote), and checking the UN Jobs website and agencies’ individual websites may bring you good luck.
Do you live and work in Timor-Leste? What else would you add to this list — or, how did you find your current job?