Sustainable development, poverty eradication and vulnerable community empowerment in Timor-Leste through safeguarding the cultural and natural heritage

© Fajar Djati/UNESCO

Timor Leste is a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) whose national wealth lies in its natural and cultural resources. In spite of its relatively small geographical area, Timor Leste is rich in ethnic and cultural diversity, resulting in a wide variation in indigenous knowledge systems, customs and governance structures. Recent rapid changes that have taken place in Timor Leste, especially since its independence in 2002, have had tremendous impacts on the environment and the unique systems of traditional knowledge which underlie its sustainability.

Government officials, scholars, NGOs and UN agencies should work together to ensure that the transmission of local and indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage of Timor Leste is sustained and safeguarded. By preventing Timor Leste’s cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge from spiraling into decay, the country can use cultural and natural assets sustainably to improve community’s livelihoods.

A one-year new inter-sectoral project, between Culture, Sciences for Society and Social and Human Science Units, titled “Sustainable development, poverty eradication and vulnerable community empowerment in Timor-Leste through Safeguarding the Cultural and Natural Heritage” will be implemented in Timor-Leste from late 2012.

The project aims to stimulate local community empowerment and income generation through the promotion of Timor Leste’s tangible and intangible cultural and natural assets. The project will focus on capitalising on the potential of Timor-Leste’s local wisdom, to utilise the country’s wealth of cultural assets and natural resources to create attractive products made of natural resources which can be used to improve community’s livelihoods.

The project will be targeting the rural poor in several villages in Timor Leste. Traditional skills will be introduced or re-strengthened to local communities so they can utilize their natural assets more effectively. Through sound resource management and cultural heritage preservation, vulnerable groups can earn a living through markets that are resilient and are not vulnerable to climate change.

The SCS Unit’s role in this project is to undertake community-based action research on traditional ecological knowledge on natural resources and asses how they can be used effectively to create saleable products. After the completion of this research, the SCS unit will lead activities such as capacity building workshops to teach local residents (particularly women and youth) about how to use their natural assets sustainably. Such activities will contribute to the empowerment of East-Timorese women; the production of cultural items, such as tais for example, is traditionally a women’s activity so these workshops can give them skills, pride and improve their capacities for income generation. The workshops will also facilitate the handing down of local and indigenous knowledge to the next generation. Local communities will consequently be able to manage their natural resources more efficiently and become more self-sufficient by encouraging community members to use resources that are readily available and do not rely on importing goods from other areas.

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