Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Timor’

One in a Few Billion.

May 24, 2013 3 comments
Timor Meets the Sea

Timor Meets the Sea

I’ve written a few blogs about my experience as a Kiva Fellow in Timor, but I haven’t written directly about a typical borrower in this very poor region. So as I wrap up this fellowship with Kiva, I’m taking this opportunity to fill that gap.

The borrower you’re about to meet lives within the city limits of Kupang on the western tip of Timor. Kupang is the provincial capital of Nusa Tenggara Timur which includes the western half of Timor, the islands of Flores, Sumba, Alor, Rinca, Komodo and 560 other small islands. NTT is the poorest province in Indonesia, but it is a beautiful place. Jagged mountain skylines (mostly volcanic, though Timor is not) are bounded by coral reefs, isolated and deserted beaches, and rich turquoise seas.

The Kiva micro-finance partner in Kupang, Tanaoba Lais Manekat (“Serving With Love” in the local Dawan language) has been operating since 1995. TLM has grown to 30 branches operating on six islands serving 7,000 clients. At this writing there are 410 active Kiva loans which will expand to about 700 as TLM uses all of the loan capacity now available to them. The average Kiva loan is about $650 and is repaid in just over two years.

Blandina with Daughter Ivander

Blandina with Daughter Ivander

Blandina has been a TLM/Kiva client for several years. She is 46 and raising six children spanning the ages of 6 to 18. She exemplifies someone who was at risk of slipping into poverty and was unfortunate enough to find herself there.

Ten years ago she would not have considered herself poor. Although they lived in a humble house, her husband, Oktovianus, worked as a mason. Together with her income as a sales clerk, and a small goods business in the local market they were able to support their family.

But a few years ago Oktovianus passed away after a long illness which drained the family savings and forced them to sell their home. Blandina was left with nothing and needed to support her children by herself. Her own illness forced her to leave her job as a sales clerk, so to meet expenses she went door to door washing clothes.

Blandina's Home and Kisok

Blandina’s Home and Kisok

The earnings from washing just wasn’t enough, so she began to generate a bit more income by opening a kiosk business from the home she now rents. It’s a small operation selling home-made snacks and baked goods (her spicy fried corn is especially yummy), instant noodles, toiletries, staples like salt and sugar, candies and other items. She began with her own capital and borrowed about $300 through TLM and Kiva to increase her stock and build a larger customer base.

After housing and feeding her children, keeping them in school has been Blandina’s primary concern. She has a unique savings system where money earned from each of her activities is put in a different colored box for different expenses – one of these is for tuition. She also has savings in TLM’s deposit program.

She recently took out her fifth loan and will be using the $400 to expand her income activity by buying piglets to raise and fatten for re-sale.

The income from her various businesses has allowed her to meet her goal to keep her children in school. Unfortunately, her oldest son recently graduated from high school and is not able to attend university – he’s working as a fare collector on one of the local mini-buses to help with family expenses.

Blandina is hoping that continuing support from TLM and Kiva’s lenders will help her build a better future for her other children. She is certainly working hard to make that happen.

If you haven’t looked into Kiva, you might take this opportunity to do so. It’s an easy method to help the neediest people directly through Kiva’s partners worldwide. It has been proven for many years that micro-finance works – micro-loans enable people to help themselves. It would be great if you could make a loan for as little as $25 to one of the billions of poor people like Blandina throughout the world.

Go to Kiva.org and meet someone like Blandina. Loan them a few bucks. It isn’t tax deductible because you get it back.

More pictures of NTT here: NTT Photos

Kupang Waterfront

Kupang Waterfront

Sunset from Kupang

Sunset from Kupang

Advertisements

Postcard from the Lesser Sunda Islands

May 15, 2013 3 comments

————————–

Here are some random photos from some of the islands of the Lesser Sunda group: Indonesian Timor, Sabu, Rote, Flores, Rinca, and Komodo.

Rote Island

Rote Island

Rice Fields

Rice Fields on Timor

Street Food - Salome

Street Food – Salome

At Berth in Sabu

At Berth in Sabu

Floating Off Komodo

Floating Off Komodo

Beauty and the Beast .. or .. "My Last Photo"

Beauty and the Beast .. or .. “My Last Photo”

Best Left Alone

Best Left Alone

Morning

Morning

Sunrise

Sunrise at Anchor Off Komodo

Flores Island in the Distance

Flores Island in the Distance

Rinca Island

Rinca, a Dry Island

King of Rinca

King of Rinca

Landscape

Landscape

Labuanbajo Harbor

Labuanbajo Harbor

Laundry Day

Laundry Day

Four on a Bike

Four on a Bike

Local Carrier

Island Hopper

Third Police Station of the Afternoon

Third Police Station of the Afternoon

Crystal Cave Pool

Crystal Cave Pool – Scene of the Crime

Oesau Market

Oesau Market

Sunset at Kupang

Sunset at Kupang

West Timor

West Timor

Small Scale Tempe Producer

Small Scale Tempe Producer

Visiting Clients

Visiting Clients

Small Business on Sabu

Small Business on Sabu

Sabu from the Air

Sabu from the Air

Kupang Sunset - A Daily Event

Another Kupang Sunset – A Daily Event

Mister! Take My Picture!

Mister! Take My Picture!

Not Sure

Not Sure

Rice Fields

Timor Rice Fields and Hills

Kupang Waterfront

Kupang Waterfront

Bemo Guys

Bemo Guys

There are many more photos to see on flickr. Click HERE.

Here’s the map I promised. The Lesser Sunda Islands make up the Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (East Southeast Islands):

Nusa Tenggara Timur - The East Southeast Islands

Nusa Tenggara Timur

Standing Firmly on the Ground

March 12, 2013 Leave a comment

2013-02-09_23-40-43_DSCN2935a

An Unstable Foundation

In western mythology the phoenix, rising from its own ashes, represents cyclical extinction and regeneration; death and re-birth. Human stories lack the mythical qualities of the tales they inspire.

“On 30 August 1999, in a UN-supervised popular referendum, an overwhelming majority (78.5%) of the people of Timor-Leste voted for independence from Indonesia. However, in the next three weeks, anti-independence Timorese militias – organized and supported by the Indonesian military – commenced a large-scale, scorched-earth campaign of retribution. The militias killed approximately 1,400 Timorese and forcibly pushed 300,000 people (1/3 of the population) into western Timor as refugees. Most of the country’s infrastructure, including homes, irrigation systems, water supply systems, and schools, and nearly 100% of the country’s electrical grid were destroyed. On 20 September 1999, Australian-led peacekeeping troops deployed to the country and brought the violence to an end.” CIA Factbook – parenthetical comments and emphasis mine.

In 2000, Save the Children hired Angelo Soares to work as coordinator of their Children Youth  Development Program (CYDP) as part of the re-building effort in Timor-Leste. Timorese by birth, he had been educated in Indonesia in agricultural development and worked for the government there for 10 years.

2013-03-08_13-54-05_DSC_0928b

Angelo Soares, CEO, Tuba Rai Metin

When Save the Children opened a micro-credit program in July of 2001, they asked Angelo to join that program. The micro-credit program was transferred to Catholic Relief Services in January 2002, and on May 13 “Tuba Rai Metin” (“Standing Firmly on the Ground” in the local Tetum language) became a legal entity registered with the NGO Forum. CRS continued support to TRM over the next four years with loan capital, technical assistance and grants.

Timor-Leste was internationally recognized as an independent state on 20 May 2002, 27 years after the Indonesian occupation began.

Angelo began as a field loan officer, and he rose to be a Branch Manager in 2004. By 2006 he had become an Area Manager.

An Uneven Recovery

Unfortunately, 2006 would be a year of turmoil, too.

“East Timor’s capital, Dili, descended into chaos in April and May 2006, when the prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, fired almost half the country’s soldiers for striking. The fired soldiers, who had protested against low wages and alleged discrimination, then began rioting, and soldiers loyal to the prime minister started battling them. Soon the violence had spread to the police force and the civilian population, causing about 130,000 to flee their homes to avoid the bloodshed. Australian troops were called in to control the unrest. On June 26, Prime Minister Alkatiri resigned in an effort to stop the country’s disintegration.” Infoplease.com.

Angelo remembers the date well. It was May 26 when his home was ransacked and destroyed. His family lost everything. They fled to live in nearby Motael Church with 500 other scared people. Other churches and schools across the city along with the airport filled with refugees by the thousands. They remained for two weeks until calm returned. Like the rest of his neighbors, Angelo and his family were starting from zero.

Panorama 2a

Motael Church in Dili Today

The senior manager of TRM fled to Australia “for 12 days”, but a month later he sent his resignation letter to the board and never returned. Angelo was now in charge of what had been the 5th largest of 15 micro-finance institutions (MFI’s) in the country. Thirteen of them were now closed because they lost their assets. But TRM still had physical and financial assets, loans outstanding, and clients wanting to stay in business, even though many were in refugee camps.

By January of 2007 CRS completed an assessment and concluded that the situation in Timor-Leste was too difficult to continue support. They were pulling out. TRM’s monthly expenses were $8,500, yet income was only $4,000 in a deteriorating climate. Angelo was presented with three options:

  1. Close down and pay the staff a severance package.
  2. Merge with Moris Rasik – the only other surviving MFI (larger than TRM)
  3. Continue operations with no further support from CRS.

Angelo chose the third option.

How to Exist as a Timorese Institution?

This was not without some risk … to say the least. Unable to break even while supporting 24 staff members, an outstanding loan portfolio of $168,000 with 2,800 clients uprooted from their homes and businesses and living in refugee camps, abandoned by management and an international aid organization, TRM would be a high risk venture in anyone’s estimation.

Refugee Camp, DiliPhoto by Austcare www.flickr.com/photos/austcare

Refugee Camp, Dili 2006 – Photo by Austcare
www.flickr.com/photos/austcare

But how to exist as a Timorese institution? First he tried to convince the board of directors to engage with the business, but not one director was willing to meet with him. A quarter of the staff left for more secure jobs in the government. But Angelo felt he had to try and make it work. It was for his community and his young country.

The remaining staff forged a plan to manage the budget to make it work. Cuts came, and they were difficult, but there was a desire to make sacrifices to rebuild. Benefits were cut to the bone. Employees agreed to sleep in branch offices to save on lodging expenses while traveling. TRM leased one of the cars to another company. Tightening their belts, they managed to reduce expenses significantly.

There were a few challenges in helping their clients rebuild. First the 2,800 clients had to be found amid the refugee camps. Micro-finance, by its nature, is a labor intensive business. The loan officers spend a lot of time out in the community getting know their clients personally, and they meet with them when loan repayments are made. They were accustomed to doing a lot of leg work, and clients were found.

Loans were restructured, and, in many cases, additional loans were made available. It took about a month to get most businesses going again, but most did get going again. The challenge was helping clients rebuild while keeping the company afloat.

A Bumpy Road

Things were going so well that in March of 2007 TRM opened a new field office in Lospalos, Lautém District. And in May income met expenses for the first time since TRM became a Timorese business – just five months after CRS pulled out.

Working closely with their clients, they set the stage to reduce the number of delinquent loans from 75% in 2006 to only 14% in 2009.

But inconclusive June 2007 elections between seven competing parties and protracted negotiations to come up with a ruling coalition led to political unrest. Generally, there was an East-West divide of feelings. Those in the east generally favored independence parties, while those in the west leaned toward Indonesia.

Most people were fearful of leaving their own cities. But Angelo continued to make the run between Dili (west) and Baucau (east) on a regular basis to keep the business moving.

In July there was a month-long work stoppage in Baucau. Banks and government offices closed. All activity stopped. But not at TRM. In order to keep a low profile, the loan officers visited their clients on their motorbikes dressed in shorts and sandals and, when challenged, said they were out visiting friends. There were no banks to deposit their collections, and they avoided using the office, so the Branch Manager kept loan collections in his house.

The political unrest turned violent in several districts, including Baucau. On July 7 TRM’s Baucau branch office was burned along with all the records. $18,000 in cash was lost.

Stability …. at Last

Since the mid-decade troubles, the political climate has been much more stable. UN security forces moved in to stabilize the country, and they just left in December, 2012.

TRM's Kiva Coordinators Connecting Borrowers with Lenders

TRM’s Kiva Coordinators Connecting Borrowers with Lenders

TRM has been on a steady growth path with help from BASIX and the UNCDF (UN Credit Development Fund) and now serves over 7,500 clients in all 13 national districts. The loan portfolio has grown to over $2.8 million. They offer a complete portfolio of loan products, micro-insurance and deposit savings accounts.

Tuba Rai Metin has been a partner with Kiva since May of 2012, offering the opportunity for Kiva lenders to make loans directly to individuals and groups served by TRM.

I am in Dili working with TRM to solidify and expand the relationship with Kiva. Angelo and his team have just completed the requirements to move from “pilot” to “active” status. This will increase the amount of money Kiva makes available to lend to TRM borrowers through the Kiva website, as well as open the door to fund special development projects.

I hope you will look for TRM’s clients on Kiva.org as you search for places to connect with small entrepreneurs.

Phoenix or Mortal?

The phoenix resurrected from its ashes is a fanciful image created in men’s minds. The origin of the story is lost in time. Perhaps it was used as soothing encouragement during catastrophic times. Maybe an inducement to rise powerfully against a conquering enemy.

To stand firmly on the ground is something humans do. In the final analysis, it is the only course of action we humans have. But we can do pretty well. Perfecting our stance will do more to help ourselves and others than any flight of fancy.

2013-03-09_11-11-26_DSC_0977a

Relics of the Struggles Remain

Introducing Timor-Leste

February 20, 2013 1 comment

I arrived in Timor-Leste about a week ago to begin a Kiva Fellowship, and you might be wondering where the heck that is. So I’ll try to fill you in on some background while I ease into the place.

I like maps. Here’s one of the world:

It's Way Our There

Timor Is Way Out There (Unless You Live in Australia)

The Regional Context – Southeast Asia

I’ve traveled through SE Asia quite a bit, and I really like the region. It is exotic. Some places are truly Paradise – there are apples, serpents and even the occasional sinner seeking (or transferring) knowledge.

A few cities are westernized and modern, and it’s hard to remember you’re in Asia. But most places have a very different feel. The various cultures have lived in relatively close proximity for… well, forever, but travel has been difficult, so there are still very diverse regional identities – language, food, beliefs, traditions, even the weather.

The region has seen empires come and go, waves of invaders and colonists, been in the middle of world conflict, and shared in more peaceful cross-cultural exchanges as international trade has blossomed. But some places are still nearly untouched.

Hang On, Another Map Is Coming

Timor is in SE SE Asia

Timor is in SE SE Asia

Even if you haven’t been to the area, or can’t find them on a map without searching a bit, you have heard the names. The Asian Tigers – the economic tigers – of Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have done well in the global economy.

Like the rest of the world, income and wealth distribution is very uneven. The per capita GDP’s of Singapore (intellectual and manufacturing hub) and Brunei (think oil) are higher than the USA. Malaysia, the third largest regional economy, earns 1/3 the US figure. Thailand’s is half of that. Indonesia, with a roaring economy (16th largest GDP, and the fourth largest world population) has a per capita GDP that is half of Thailand’s – one tenth that of the US.

Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are rich places for some people, but poor for most.

Timor-Leste – the first new country of this century – ranks nearly last, economically. Among all of Asia, its 2011 per capita GDP of  US$4.50 per day (3% of the US figure) places it just ahead of Myanmar, Afghanistan and Nepal, and just behind Bangladesh. And this figure is inflated due to the large UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) presence, of which I am a part. It also includes oil wealth which is the only means the government has to fund itself.

More maps:

Finally, Timor

Finally, Timor – A Crocodile?

The Indonesian Archipelago

The Indonesian Archipelago

Here Comes Some History to Complement the Geography

Partly due to history, but perhaps mostly due to geography Timor has always been a backwater. The island is the 5th largest of the 17,000 islands making up  the Indonesian archipelago and is near the far eastern end (almost in Papua New Guinea).  About the size of Massachusetts, or a bit smaller than Belgium, it never figured very large in Dutch or Portuguese colonial ambitions. There wasn’t much to take except sandalwood – the only place on earth where sandalwood forests exist today.

Remnants of the Portuguese

Remnants of the Portuguese on Dili Harbor

The only lasting legacy the Europeans left behind was the political division of the island into east and west (and some influence on the local language). The Dutch on the west end of the island had a toe hold in Kupang, and the Portuguese in the East at Dili. Their colonial administration centers were just too far away to care – the Dutch were in Jakarta/Batavia 1200 miles to the west; the Portuguese center in Malacca on the Malay Peninsula was even farther.

Fast Forward a Few Centuries

A major consequence of Japanese expansion in WWII was the dismemberment of European colonial control. Local populations were startled at how easily the Japanese swept out their oppressors. So, after the war independence fever hit the region defying European return – Malaysia, Singapore & Burma/Myanmar (British), Vietnam & Cambodia (French), Philippines (US), and Indonesia (Dutch) ultimately became independent nations.

When the Dutch formally acknowledged Indonesian independence in 1949, the western end of Timor went with it.

Independence for the East?  …. Not Yet

The eastern end of the island remained in Portuguese hands until the 1974 military coup (Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution”) ousted dictator Antonio Salazar and brought democracy to Portugal. One reason for the coup was continued conscription to fight wars in the colonies.2013-02-09_23-40-43_DSCN2935a

But 1975 did not bring freedom to East Timor. Indonesia had ambitions on the entire island and the absence of the Portuguese and lack of international interest allowed them to enforce a long and bloody occupation. There were pro- and anti-Indonesian militia factions warring among themselves, civilian massacres of thousands and a civilian exodus of hundreds of thousands. A 1997 Asian financial crisis increased social unrest prompting the UN to send peacekeepers (mostly Australian). In 1999 a referendum on independence only fueled factional violence.

Independence!!

Independence was finally achieved in May of 2002 – Repúblika Demokrátika Timor-Leste becoming the first new nation of the 21st century.  But internal rankling and a presidential assassination attempt kept the country in an anxious state into 2008. The UN just left in December of 2012 after a long transition of security control to local forces.2013-02-16_20-02-13_DSCN2996

Timor-Leste is poor and always has been. Today, oil and gas account for half the exports. Coffee  – Starbucks buys 80-90% of it – makes up a quarter. There’s a small traditional crafts industry, and a small tourist market – mostly for Scuba divers plunging into the rich waters just offshore (you can drive to some nice dive spots).

But most of the population live as subsistence farmers. You remember that $4.50 per day per capita GDP (which includes oil and gas exports)?  Well, about 70% of the population earns less than $2 per day.

And that is why Kiva has sent me here.

Specifically, I’m working with a local micro-finance institution called Tuba Rai Metin. In the local Tetun language that means “Stand Firmly on the Ground”  which is an apt monicker for only one of two micro-finance institutions to adapt to, evolve and survive the violence and uncertainty of the last decade. From its beginning in 2001 with support from Save the Children Federation it has grown to have a loan portfolio of about $5M serving 7,000 borrowers (all women) and offers financial products such as business and agricultural loans, micro-insurance, and deposit savings.

You’ll be hearing more about this.

Headquarters - Tuba Rai Metin

Headquarters – Tuba Rai Metin http://www.tubaraimetin.com/

Getting There is (Something Less Than) Half the Fun

February 10, 2013 3 comments

Days -3 to +1 of a Kiva Fellowship

Day -3: I know when to leave a party.

More Snow than Boston was Expecting

More Snow than Boston was Expecting

A big snowstorm was moving up the east coast of the US due to hit Boston on Thursday. On Wednesday night at 22:30 I boarded a Swiss International flight for the 6 hour run to Zurich.

This might seem like an unusual choice to avoid winter weather (there was snow on the ground in Zurich), but this was just the first leg of my journey.

Day -2: Getting There….

A few hours layover and I was snuggled into my seat for the 10 hour Thai Air flight to Bangkok. I was able to see most of the film “Argo” (which I recommend) before the entertainment system failed, seemingly only in my and my neighbor’s seats.

Day -1: Getting There….

Not there quite yet, a few hours after traipsing across the huge Suvarnabhumi airport, I boarded another Thai flight, this one only 5 hours long, to Denpasar on the island of Bali. I stumbled out of the plane into 32C/89F warmth. The surfing forecast was good (it always is), and no blizzard was in sight. Using a conventional calendar to track my position in the space/time continuum, it was Friday and was 2:00 in the afternoon local time, about 27 hours and 12 or 13 time zones after boarding the Zurich bound flight in Boston.

Having changed my original travel plans and not able to re-confirm my next flight over the internet, I quickly checked into my Kuta guesthouse. Then began a three hour epic taxi journey through the busy streets of Denpasar in search of Merpati Airlines office. Boarding the cab, the flag drop was only 5,000 Indonesian rupiahs – about US$0.50, so I figured this ride would be pretty cheap.

Typical, Boring, Kuta Sunset

Typical, Boring, Kuta Sunset

The traffic was reminiscent of Hanoi. Motorbikes everywhere during the fully developed rush hour. The only difference here was that I was in a Toyota taxi, not riding bitch on the back of a motorbike taxi in Hanoi bumping knees with other riders.

I took care of my business, buying a new ticket at slightly more than double the cost of the original one, and taxied back to Kuta. I was so tired during the ride back that I started to hallucinate as my mind wandered. Focus. Dropping me near my guesthouse, the taxi meter read 167,500 IDR – US$17. Glad this wasn’t NYC.

There are three main reasons I love Asia. The insane traffic, the food, and the foot massages. The first item was already checked off, so I took a quick walk along the beach, a short nap while having a decent foot massage, scarfed down grilled prawns in Szechuan sauce with a side of stir fried morning glory, a quick dip in the pool, and then tried to sleep.

Day 0: Getting Real Close

Finally on the way to my ultimate destination, I climbed on the frigidly air-conditioned late morning Merpati flight to Dili, Timor-Leste. It was less than two hours, and I wished longer because of the great views of some of the 15,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago and the towering cumulus clouds of the rainy season. Beautiful.

From Dili

From Dili

So Abundant it Grows on the TreesSo Abundant, Fish Grow on Trees

The first views of Timor showed the rugged mountains (up to 3000m), torrential wet season run-off into the sea, and the small city of Dili hugging the north coast around a small harbor.

Checked into the Dive Timor Lorosae guesthouse and took the first orientation walk of town scoping out some longer term stay options.

Dive Timor Lorosae

Dive Timor Lorosae

In the next issue – Where to stay?

————————————————————————————————-