Understanding Community in Timor-Leste

Community Security and Sustainability

Timeframe:          July 2007-July 2009
Researchers:       Dr Damian Grenfell
                           Mayra Walsh
                           Carmenesa Moniz Noronha
                           Anna Trembath
                           Kym Holthouse
Research Sites:    Aldeia Luha Oli, sub-district Venilale, Baucau district
                           Aldeia Nanu, sub-district Fatumean, Covalima district
                           Aldeia Sarelari, sub-district Luro, Lautem district
                           Aldeia Golgota, sub-district Dom Aleixo, Dili district
Funding:              Irish Aid Timor-Leste
                           Globalism Research Centre, RMIT University
                           Global Cities Institute, RMIT University
                           Oxfam Australia
                           Concern Worldwide
Publications:        Final Four-Site Report in English (Report and Cover) and                            Tetun (Report and Cover) (July 2009) 
                           Initial Two-Site Report in English (Report and Cover) (August                            2008)

This project was framed by a concern for how communities in Timor-Leste are able to maintain security and sustainability. The concept of 'community security' allows for a consideration of both direct threats, such as social conflict, violence and property destruction, as well as the ability to achieve those things that might be understood to enable a good life, such as access to adequate shelter, food, health, education and cultural expression. 'Community sustainability', a framework used by the Globalism Research Centre in our research across the globe, refers to the ways in which communities hold themselves together in a durable and coherent form over a period of time, even in the face of substantial challenges and under periods of intense change. 

Our research attempted to illuminate contemporary conditions and patterns of social life in Timor-Leste by focusing particularly on one of the most localized forms of community, namely the aldeia, rather than on the nation-state. Despite nation formation and national identity, localized forms of community remain extremely important in Timor-Leste. In terms of work, family, mobility and levels of identity, it is more localized forms of community that provide both the primary material and cultural basis of social life for a very large number of people. Analysis at this level also allows for another way to understand the national conditions of Timor-Leste, if such communities are taken as fairly representative of local communities across the nation. 

Our research was undertaken in four sites across Timor-Leste: aldeia Luha Oli (sub-district Venilale, Baucau), aldeia Nanu (sub-district Fatumean, Covalima), aldeia Sarelari (sub-district Luro, Lautem), and aldeia Golgota (sub-district Dom Aleixo, Dili). 

With this project we generated a broad empirical foundation, one of use to communities, governments and other institutions in assessing policy directions. It will help to develop durable links between communities and researchers, government agencies and NGOs, providing information for communities themselves in enacting their own sustainability goals. And it will challenge some of the current theoretical trends that reduce community either to a form of social capital or to a residual concern in the putatively more important task of enhancing economic development. 

Methods used included various individual and household surveys, semi-structured interviews, photo-narrative, and temporal, spatial and family mapping techniques. Project staff worked across various languages, including Tetun, Bahasa Indonesia and local languages.  

Under the theme of ‘community’, the entire field research team, including Carmenesa Noronha and Anna Trembath, along with Kym Holthouse, Damian Grenfell and Mayra Walsh (as program leader), began a very exciting and innovative research program titled ‘Community Security and Sustainability’. This is a multi-site study being undertaken in three regional sites of Venilale in Baucau district, Fatumean in Covalima district, Barikafa in Lautem district, as well as the suburb of Kampun Baru in Dili. The study was originally to include Raimea in Lolotoe, Bobonaro district, however, following an initial visit in which permission was granted, a conflict between different communities and the church in the area led to a series of houses being badly damaged, so our research there has been indefinitely deferred. By working intensely at the community level, the aim of this project is to provide a sense of how local communities are able to sustain themselves in the face of extraordinary challenges to their ongoing sense of security.

Download the final report here.