In this small island nation—where nearly 70 percent of the population is under 25 years old—economic opportunities are rare, especially in rural areas. Twenty-two-year-old Lenia never thought she would one day be able to run her own business. That was before she joined Plan International’s Youth Empowerment Program.
Independence Through Savings and Loans
Today, Lenia is involved in one of the 20 savings and loans groups formed in Timor-Leste with support from Plan. She has been elected as the treasurer.
“Now my life is better,” she said. “I can generate an income and I know how to manage it.”
With little employment opportunities for young people in rural areas, self-employment is often key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Through the savings and loans groups, young people are able to borrow money for education or health needs, but also to start a small business.
“Before joining the project it was difficult for me to know how to manage my money. Now I am able to save a little bit every month for the future,” she said. “I already made good use of a loan and started a business in my village selling popsicles and biscuits. Business is very good so far; I sell out almost every day,” she said.
“We often see young people moving from rural areas to the capital to find jobs, and they end up in underpaid positions barely having enough to eat and pay rent,” said Etha Mota, Youth Empowerment Program manager. “Through this program, we can help young people create jobs and small businesses to build a better future right here in their villages.”
Gaining the Confidence to Thrive
As part of the program, and to complement the benefits of the savings and loans groups, young people also benefit from various life skills training sessions, giving them the knowledge and courage necessary to become independent.
This includes training on children’s and youth rights, as well as business management.
“We received leadership training that was very useful,” said Lenia. “It gave me the confidence to make it on my own.”
By equipping young people with interpersonal skills such as leadership, the program ensures that young people will be able to operate a successful business. Lenia is one of the young women who was bold enough to start her own shop and hopes to see many more youth follow her example in the future.
“I hope that this group will continue its activities and become a model for other groups beyond the project,” she said.
Plan International Timor-Leste’s Youth Empowerment Program is supported by Plan International Australia and funded by the European Union and the Australian government.