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CNEFP has had a friendly relationship with EWB volunteers since and has recently become EWB’s newest international partner. Luke Phillips, the first EWB Field Volunteer to work with CNEFP, arrived in Timor in October to work as a Vocational Curriculum and Teaching Development Mentor.

EWB is inspired by the change Simão and his colleagues are creating. We interviewed him to find out about his work, life and love for Timor.

What is CNEFP?

CNEFP is the National Centre for Employment and Professional Training. It delivers technical and vocational training for young Timorese people so they can gain employment.

In , after Timor-Leste voted overwhelmingly for independence, the Indonesian military withdrew and left a trail of destruction. Much of Timor’s infrastructure, including schools, housing, power and water supplies, was destroyed. I saw a need to train people with skills to rebuild the country. I worked with an aid delegation from Portugal to establish the Centre in Tibar, about km west of the capital, Dili. All the buildings were either renovated or built from scratch by students and staff.

Why are you excited to work with EWB?

EWB and CNEFP make a good match. We like to incorporate engineering principles into our training and having a volunteer will help us improve the standard of our curriculum and teaching.

We’ve been very happy to have EWB’s Kate Walsh volunteering for the past year teaching an English class and welcome Luke Phillips who has joined us to focus on curriculum development.

What do you hope to achieve by working with EWB?

We hope the training our students receive will be a pathway to pursuing engineering and further education. Those who receive more theoretical training from other institutions can come to CNEFP and get practical experience. Hosting EWB volunteers brings new expertise, interest and opportunities to the Centre.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many EWB volunteers over the years. Many volunteers reported favourably about CNEFP to head office and Christina Spehr, EWB’s previous In-Country Coordinator, was determined to get an EWB volunteer for CNEFP.  EWB never forgot about CNEFP and now we finally have a volunteer! These things always take time!

Organisations such as EWB have given us great support and inspiration. We really appreciate volunteers who leave their country, dedicate their time here and contribute towards the future of CNEFP.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

During the s I studied at a technical school in West Timor. After graduating I came back to Timor-Leste and received a very competitive scholarship to study Mechanical Engineering in Java. I went to Indonesia but during this time Timor was fighting for independence and I found it difficult to concentrate on my studies. I supported the Independence Movement with my fellow Timorese students, so I didn’t complete the Mechanical Engineering degree. I decided to go back to Timor in to vote in the August referendum and stayed to be part of rebuilding the country.

Between and I looked at how I could get involved in technical and vocational training. Many of my friends, who studied in Java, were smart and understood the theory, but lacked the practical experience needed to rebuild roads, schools and infrastructure. I felt that Timor’s independence was in our hands.

I love learning and teaching others so that we can be dynamic and make things better.

How can Timor overcome some of its challenges?

Timor-Leste needs to invest in good management, long-term solutions and quality education. “Do it once and do it properly” is a motto that I firmly believe in! At CNEFP we train with this philosophy in mind. We have a reputation for prioritising quality training for our students.

What does a day in your life look like?

I’m a practical person and I’m always out and about. I like meeting people and making the most of these opportunities – I can always get back to paperwork in the evenings. We like to try new ideas and improve the Centre. All the staff at CNEFP are really dedicated and inspire me.

What do you like to do outside of work? 

I like to spend time with friends and family and experience new things. I love travelling around Timor (but not off- road WD anymore as it burns too much fuel and damages the environment).

I like BBQs (fish, cassava, sweet potato and chicken), live music and dancing. And I love a glass of red wine!

What’s your favourite thing about living in Timor-Leste?

Timor challenges everyone to make our lives better. I have visited Australia and everything runs smoothly: many of the challenges we have in Timor don’t exist there. When I am in Timor I think “how can I make a difference?” I reflect on the many men and women who sacrificed their lives to create this country. We all benefit from their sacrifice, so I think about what we can do now to benefit the next generation and beyond.

I love the mix of traditional and modern practices and how community and family are very important.

I have had many chances to visit other countries but my heart remains in Timor with my people.

Now is the time to be in Timor-Leste. I don’t want to miss this moment in history, so I’m still here!

Photos:Top left – Simão Barreto and Melissa Bencik Right -Simão Barreto and Melissa BencikBottom – Simão Barreto and Melissa Bencik at CNFP