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Sweet business success for women in Timor-Leste

Maria making cake at her home in Louro, Lautem, Timor Leste.
Maria making cake at her home in Louro, Lautem, Timor Leste.
March 14, 2012

Young women in rural areas of Timor–Leste face numerous barriers in accessing training and generating income for themselves and their families. However, Plan livelihoods program that delivers vocational training in Lautem and Aileu districts has helped women learn new skills, start their own businesses and save for their children’s futures.

For 28–year–old Maria, a mother of two from Louro village in Lautem, taking part in the training has led to big changes.

“Before, I just stayed at home and looked after my children and watched my stall, but after the training from Plan, my friends and I opened our own business. Now we have more money, we are busy and we have something to do,” Maria said.

Maria, along with the four other members of her income generation group — Ersilia, Magdalena, Felicidade and Angelina — produce delicious cakes from ingredients that grow abundantly in the local area, such as sweet potatoes, cassava, banana, corn and coconut. They then sell the cakes at local markets, schools and at stalls, as well as in the nearby town of Lospalos.

“We use these local fruits and vegetables as the main ingredients to produce the cakes because they are easy to find and not expensive,” Maria said.

The local ingredients also cater to local tastes—as a result, the cakes have been a sell out success. “The cakes that were made in the morning have already sold out, so now I have to make more,” Maria said, while mixing up a new batch of cake batter in her kitchen.

In addition to selling at markets, the women have also been taking catering orders for large ceremonies in their village and for meetings, including the meetings for Maria’s husband’s local soap production group.

Baking up a business from scratch

Maria’s group started training through Plan Timor Leste’s Women’s Vocational Training program in June 2011. For two weeks, the women attended classes in Lospalos, where they learned to make cakes using the ingredients that grow in their own gardens, reducing their production costs.

Plan also trained the women in other skills necessary for business success.

“We were trained about how to manage our money, manage our groups, manage time and how to make plans,” Maria said.

The Young Women’s Vocational Training program also supplied the group with the tools they needed to get their business off the ground, including kitchen utensils and a machine to grind coconut and cassava.

“When Plan gave us the shredding machine, Plan also provided us with training on how to operate and maintain it,” Maria said.

After completing training and receiving the necessary equipment, Maria and her group pooled together money buy ingredients. Each of the women cooks at their own home and then sells their products. The women then gather their income together as a group under the careful watch of treasurer Ersilia. They use half of their income to cover daily expenses, while the other half is saved and used to provide loans to the community, generating interest on their savings and creating a nest–egg for their children’s futures.

Empowering women to access livelihood

Plan Timor–Leste has been operating a Youth Livelihoods program since 2006. During 2010, 108 youth in Lautem took part in the program, however only 35.2 percent of participants were women, well short of the program’s goal for 50 percent female participation.

Some of the barriers to women’s participation included families not allowing daughters to travel outside of their villages for training, as well as the trend for women to get married and start a family at a young age, directing their time and resources away from furthering their education.

In response to this, Plan Timor–Leste developed a Young Women’s Vocational Training project, which began in March 2010 in Aileu and Lautem districts. Since the program began, some 170 women in Aileu and 140 in Lautem have received training.

The objectives of the Young Women’s Vocational Training program are to ensure that young women have access to adequate income and have the opportunity to participate productively in their communities through training, employment and self–employment activities.

“We primarily focus on young women aged between 16 and 30 years old,” said Youth Livelihoods mentor Nelinha Pereira.

The program encourages young women to access vocational training and to form income generation groups, providing them with opportunities to take on leadership roles both in business management and the wider community.

Big dreams

Maria said she has felt happier with her life since starting the business.

“I’m happier because I have more money and another activity to do. When we didn’t have skills, we didn’t have money, but now that we have skills, we can make more money,” she said.

She is planning to spend her income on books, uniforms and school supplies for her children. Maria hopes that in the future her group’s business will continue to expand and will one day become widely known outside her village.


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