Paulina Mau Torres Da Cruz (known as Paula) first started working at Agora Food Studio ( in Dili in 2017. Now, she is a Program Manager and an experienced tourism Business Coach. She is a rising star of the tourism industry and is helping others to find their way to success in the sector. From Uatu-lari in Viqueque, Paula coaches her team in self-confidence (listen to her podcast here!), she manages customer engagement and is the coach for Agora’s Administration team, and also facilitates digital marketing workshops for Timor-Leste #nextgen tourism entrepreneurs. Since 2020, she has been leading Timor-Leste’s healthy local noodles revolution, finding a new market for Timorese produce under the TimorMie brand.  She is passionate about food: “Good food is about love. Good food is eating our local products that have high nutrition and makes us healthy, it is eating together with family to share our parents and grandparents’ stories. Eating good food is very important, like sharing our love to each other. So starting from now, let’s practice cooking good food for ourselves and our family to eat, like we are giving our love to them.”

Agora Food Studio team sharing with communities how to make healthy local “Timor Mie” noodles.

By Paulina Mau Torres Da Cruz

I first became involved in coaching in 2020 during the first COVID-19 lockdown in Timor-Leste. I was fortunate enough to be the first Timorese to attend this online coaching and leadership course focused on people working in international development.

At the time, I had little idea what the concept of coaching was and how it is different from training and mentoring. I since discovered, both by attending this course and also receiving business coaching through my workplace Agora Food Studio, that coaching is a powerful method to support everyone to achieve their goals by focusing on their strengths. As a coach you have one-on-one sessions with your ‘coachees’ – that’s the word we give to people who are being coached – who actively agree to be coached in order to grow and develop themselves professionally.

From all my coaches, I have learned so much, both practically and even spiritually. I have learned critical skills like how to solve problems, how to be a good listener. These are key skills that would prepare me to be a coach and facilitator in the future for my team mates at Agora Food Studio and our partner tourism businesses and organisations including Botir Matak, Suku, Empreza Diak and communities in Oe-cusse, Atauro, Laclubar and Triloka.

Paula (far left) as one of the facilitators for digital marketing for tourism skills, with other female Timorese tourism stars.

Through coaching I learned the importance of having good planning systems in place and the skill of being critical of your own work, but not so critical as to not believe in myself. As a human, I sometimes use to feel, when receiving feedback, that it was personal criticism. I learned that receiving feedback on your performance is something you should want, and not be afraid of.

I can say proudly that I changed my mindset here – to be more open minded to the views of others, recognising that everyone has their own strengths and perspective. When working with communities including those involved in community tourism, we have to recognise the experiences of others we are working to support.

Coaching taught me that in managing a tourism business I need empathy to understand the needs of both our clients and our colleagues. I just love sharing my experiences with other young people. I learned that, although I might have strong opinions about something, that the most powerful thing I can do is to listen. Listen first and speak last. Then from listening I can observe that my friend or colleague is now more willing to share with me, something that she may have not said before. Many of my coachees have demonstrated to me that as a coach you should not talk a lot and preferably only 20% of the time should you be talking. We need to step back as coaches and give space and time to the people we are coaching to say what is on their mind, without judging them.

Finally, I have learned from my coachees that the skills and knowledge I have I can share willingly to others with an open heart. This has motivated me more to become an entrepreneur and coach myself.

My learning journey continues as a coach

In the Agora Food Studio team, I actually love coaching all of my colleagues. Every coachee is different and when you coach them you will focus on different aspects of their professional development. The important thing I remember here is to ask the powerful questions that will allow them to understand better themselves and know what their strengths are.At the moment, I am coaching both our recently promoted Administration Manager Alda Bakhita. Alda is very willing to learn and when we have coaching sessions she is very focused on developing her professional skills in administration and finance. Alda’s motivation is high because of her difficult family situation. Since we have entered in a coaching relationship we have been able to talk about those difficult issues. At the same time that I have learned a lot about Alda, I have learned a lot about myself. As her coach, I can see that she, like me, was also initially quite sensitive to feedback before she commenced coaching sessions. One of the things we have in common, which I am proud to say we have both improved on, is that we are both now much better at double checking our own work – such as financial reports, quotations and tax statements – before we submit it to our clients or the government.

Ana is Agora’s Catering Manager and I am also coaching her at the moment. I really love to coach Ana because she is very open to learning about herself. One of Ana’s strengths is that she is very friendly and hard working. However, we have discovered through our coaching sessions that sometimes people will take advantage of her and might leave her to take on an extra work load which will make her work more stressful. My job as a coach here is to ask Ana questions that focus on what she can do to improve her work situation and communication. I can see that she is developing more confidence to ask for help with her tasks and not feel like she has to do everything herself.

My advice to young people working in tourism in Timor-Leste is that we all have to proud of ourselves and what we have right now. In Timor-Leste or anywhere, everyone has their own capacity and knowledge. If we are passionate about tourism we should see what we have around us and work together to promote it. Let’s work together to promote our own country within our own country. Let’s start with small actions.

My message to young people working in tourism

For example, if we love our local Timorese food let’s focus on promoting that. If you’re a person that loves Timorese coffee, then start by promoting that. If you’re a young person who is a tour guide and comes from a beautiful place in Timor-Leste, let’s focus on promoting that. Tourism is about culture. It is universal. There are many things we can promote in this country. We can take this opportunity seriously to promote what we have to other people and gain an income and get a job from that. Let’s promote each other and support each other and tourism businesses, especially in this difficult time. If we have our own social media with many people following us, let’s use that to promote each other, especially in the rural areas.


Finally, let’s promote #hauniatimorleste and #exploretheundiscovered in every posting, in every activity we do, especially the food, drinks and other things that we post on social media. Let’s share our stories, experiences and promote each other’s successes. As young people in this country we have to work together to support each other through working hard to promote our culture, food and spend money on that, our local tourism. Let’s start with our country first.

Paula also involved in a video that supported by USAID to educate the local entrepreneurs about Taking attractive tourism photographs using your smartphone. Click the link to watch the video

Process of filming “Taking attractive tourism photographs using your smartphone”. Photo C : USAID’s Tourism For All Project