Peacebuilding in Timor-Leste: Meeting the Challenges

Community meeting in Dili
Nitha addressing a community meeting organized by the Ministry of Social Solidarity in Dili.

In 2010, Joanita Silvira da Costa, or Nitha, as she prefers to be called, joined over one hundred other participants during the Annual Peacebuilding Training of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) that was held in Davao City, Philippines. The Annual Peacebuilding Training is a three-week intensive series of courses offered every year by MPI that aims to develop the capacity of individuals and their institutions in the field of peacebuilding. The courses explore the latest and most pressing issues on matters of peace, justice, and conflict.

Six years later, in 2016, Nitha generously shared her story and her journey as a peacebuilder in post-conflict Timor-Leste.

At the time of her participation in the annual training in 2010, Nitha was working as a member of the Dialogue Team Program of the Ministry of Social Solidarity under the area of peacebuilding. The Ministry was part of a wider government response, supported by UNDP Timor-Leste, to the 2006 crisis that “began as a conflict between elements of the military of East Timor over discrimination within the military, and expanded to a coup attempt and general violence throughout the country.”* The Ministry of Social Solidarity took the lead in conducting trust-building activities among and between the displaced population and the wider communities in the country.

Human Rights Day at Oe Cusse
The Human Rights Day celebration in 2013 at Oecusse District of Timor-Leste

Upon her return, Nitha immediately applied what she had learned from the three courses that she took at MPI 2010 to her work. Nitha had newly acquired knowledge and skills from Introduction to Peace Education, Conflict Resolution Skills, and Core Protection and Peace Advocacy. During her stay with the Ministry up until 2012, Nitha facilitated trainings on conflict resolution skills, focusing on mediation, negotiation and dialogue. Participants included youth and local leaders of different communities, religious and political leaders, and public officials of Timor-Leste.

Presently, Nitha is with the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice, the National Human Rights Institution of Timor-Leste, where she is the Promotion and Education Officer for the Good Governance Division. As the Promotion and Education Officer, it is her main task to facilitate workshops, trainings on good governance and human rights principles and organize socialization workshops for public entities such as members of the government, local authorities, public servants as well as for community leaders and communities when funding is available. In this position, Nitha still tries to incorporate her peacebuilding experience, including valuable lessons she learned from the MPI training regarding the importance of maintaining an active, participative group discussion and designing an effective training methodology.

Training at Manatuto

Nitha conducting a training on good governance, focusing on the principles of good governance and the categories of good governance violations in Manatuto District, Timor-Leste

Asked about the challenges she has encountered in her peacebuilding work, Nitha recalled the difficulty she experienced in handling participants coming from various parts of Timor-Leste when she was conducting trainings for the ministry. She emphasized the difficulty of giving trainings to participants with varying levels of education and with different native languages. She also observed the same struggle with her work at the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice. In addition, with the Ombudsman, her target groups were mostly individuals from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health who had a hard time understanding high-level judicial terms that are usually used in good governance sessions.

Nitha shared that one of the things she will never forget is how participating in MPI’s training program helped her to become a peacebuilder. The courses taught her how to become a good trainer and facilitator. She shared how she was able to make use of the methodologies practiced by MPI facilitators in her own trainings. Her active participation in group discussions and the sharing of experiences of participants from different countries enriched her personally and professionally.

Training at Lospalos

Nitha conducting a training on good governance, focusing on the principles of good governance and the categories of good governance violations in Lospalos in 2015

Nitha continues to familiarize herself in the ever-changing landscape of peacebuilding by keeping herself updated on important global issues. She makes sure to take time to read peacebuilding-related materials that she gets from the internet, including the MPI website.

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