Carving Out a Future: Youth Apprentices in Timor-Leste

By Belchior Goncalves and Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste

In many ways, Timor-Leste is a young country – just 10 years since the restoration of its independence, more than 60 percent of the population is under age 25 (2010 Census). As more young people leave school and look for work each year, the majority find that employment opportunities are few and far between. In the rural district of Bobonaro, about 56 percent of the people do not have formal employment (2010 Census). Many young people work on their family’s subsistence farms or admit that they “do nothing.”

trainer in carpentry shop

Yohanes, 59, is training five Timorese youth in carpentry skills, so they can open their own small businesses and build sustainable livelihoods.

With the support of ChildFund Timor-Leste, one man is taking action on what he sees as an opportunity, rather than a problem. “There are many youth I see who could grow, develop and support themselves,” says Yohanes, a 59-year-old carpenter. An experienced trainer, Yohanes has partnered with ChildFund Timor-Leste’s community-based organization in Bobonaro to provide young people with the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to learn a trade and start their own business.

Young men using carpentry tools

Yohanes oversees the apprentices’ work.

ChildFund Timor-Leste identified five unemployed young people in Bobonaro district who had limited education but displayed the determination to work for a brighter future. Yohanes is working alongside these five apprentices, showing them how to make quality chairs, desks, doors and windows. For five days a week, the center is a hive of activity as Yohanes and his apprentices try to keep up with local demand for their well-made products. After the apprentices complete the 12-month program, ChildFund Timor-Leste provides each one with carpentry tools so they can use their newfound skills to start a small business.

Apprentice in carpentry center

After 12 months of practical training, Natalino will receive carpentry tools to start his own business.

Natalino, a promising apprentice, was forced to leave primary school after just one year because his parents could no longer support him. “There are lots of youth in the village, but they don’t go to school. They will end up the same as I was before, just farming,” Natalino says.

Natalino is in no doubt of how important the support of ChildFund Timor-Leste and Yohanes is to his future: “If I stay here for one year, I will leave as a carpenter. It will change my life.”

Watch a video of the apprentices at work.

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