Young Timorese Combine Culture and Craft to Create New Products for the Tourism Market

Four talented young Timorese artists were struggling to find work and get ahead in life, in a country with high rates of unemployment and few opportunities to enter the world of business. Timor-Leste’s struggle to gain its independence left many of its young people with little formal education and the need to rebuild its economy from scratch.

Jose Pereira, Aderito De Jesus, Zacarias Freitas and Domingos Ramos Salsinha – all in their early twenties – have seen their lives transformed after a ceramics production training course at the East Timor Development Agency (ETDA), funded by USAID’s Tourism For All Project. They were selected for their artistic talent to receive technical training from a master potter, combined with the business skills they need to sell their pottery.

Timor-Leste has always had a tradition of making pottery for domestic use, but the ETDA project has taken the craft to a new level, with a more robust, glazed product, featuring highly decorative cultural motifs, designed to appeal to the tourist market.

Domingos Ramos Salsinha was unemployed and at risk of taking the wrong path in life. He says that the course gave him a new direction: “I never thought I would be able to be so creative or able to learn new skill. I am so proud to be a Timorese youth and because I make this local pottery, I know I am promoting my country for others around the world and especially promoting Timor-Leste tourism that I believe will make everyone happy”

Whilst all of the trainees have started to earn money through their pottery, they also value the opportunity to express themselves through the ceramic arts. Zacarias Freitas explained: “I started to love this new skill, especially expressing myself through art. I have truly dedicated myself to learn this skill and be the best I can… I have a dream to make many different styles of pottery in the future and to promote my country to people around the world.”

The new pottery range has been on sale at a new store front at ETDA and the workshop has received orders from the Timorese government for commissioned pieces to offer as commemorative gifts for visiting dignitaries and to mark milestones in the country’s history. The products are also being shipped to Melbourne, Australia, expanding their market from domestic to international customers.

“I have always enjoyed painting”, says Jose Pereira. ”This is the way I can express love to my country. When I see the result of my work, I appreciate what I have done and I really love and take pride in what I am doing. I also want to improve my skills and to give the best of me so others through the skills I used in my painting can benefit. I want to thank ETDA for giving me a future.”

Now, the original four trainee potters have mastered their art, they are passing on the skills that they have perfected to other students. Aderito De Jesus dropped out of school and was convinced he had no future. Now he is a trainer and has also started to learn English. “Painting motivates and inspires me and painting this local pottery I am able to express my feeling to others. I love painting because through painting I am promoting my country. In this way I believe my contribution as a Timorese will contribute to the development of tourism in Timor Leste, he explained.

”The change in Aderito’s personality is amazing,” said ETDA Senior Manager Januario Mok: “We have made an investment in Timorese youth – to bring them new hope – in that they can find jobs or at least earn money and thus, hopefully improve their lives – no doubt their families will also benefit. All four of our trainees show a marked change in outlook, which suggests an impact on their lives through self-confidence, pride in skills and earning power”.

Ann Turner/USAID’s Tourism For All Project