Subject: Women get WISE to self-employment

TIMOR-LESTE: Women get WISE to self-employment 19 Feb 2009 08:39:40 GMT

Source: IRIN

DILI, 19 February 2009 ( IRIN) - Natercia da Costa, 40, lives in Baucau District with her husband and four children. She used to battle to find the cash for food and school fees but now a 20-strong women's enterprise to sell fruit and vegetable chips offers hope.

In 2002, Da Costa was given a US$50 loan by a local microfinance institute, Tuba Rai Metin ­ "Feet Firmly on the Ground" ­ to set up a kiosk selling drinks and snacks.

She then formed a micro-credit group with other women and in April 2008, they became involved in the Women in Self-Employment (WISE) project run by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The ILO and UNDP enlisted Centro de Desenvolvimento Comunitário (CDC), a local NGO that supports community activities, to train the women in all aspects of their new business. The women now process, fry, bag and sell chips of breadfruit, taro, cassava, banana and sweet potato. "We hope to establish a small industry for our products," Da Costa told IRIN.

For every day they work, the women are paid 50 US cents. A 300g bag of banana chips sells for 85c and the business generates a gross income of about $100-$150 a month, added Da Costa.

Fernando Encarnação, the ILO's employment and community empowerment expert, said the aim of the WISE project was to support women affected by the 2006 political conflict and the widespread destruction and displacement by developing income-generating activities. The project now involves 16 women's groups in Viqueque, Lautem and Baucau districts, where up to half the 100,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) lived in camps or with host communities.

Simão Luis da Costa, programme coordinator for CDC, said the WISE project had trained about 60 women in the production of fried chips, jam and tomato sauce.

"We supported them with materials and training and will continue to support them until they become self-sustaining," he added.

Targeting rural women

Maraquita Fatima da Costa, 31, comes from a village in Baucau District. She was one of the first graduates of a live-in course run by Centro Treino Integral e Desenvolvimento (CTID), an NGO founded in 2000 to provide skills training for women from rural Timor.

She now works for CTID as a trainer. "Traditionally, the woman's role [in Timor] is confined. Men can do whatever they want, but for women, we have to claim that space," she said.

CTID also provided training for the WISE project. Inge Ruth Lempp, CTID peace and development adviser, told IRIN, "We trained five groups of about 20 women in virgin coconut oil production and three in tamarind candy production."

There are two CITD-trained groups in Baucau producing virgin coconut oil. It takes about 13 coconuts to make one litre of oil. CTID set a target to buy 200l of oil a month from each group at $3 each. Lempp said: "The Health Ministry is interested in using the oil for its feeding programme for malnourished children."

A few kilometres away, the NGO Loron Aban Hahu Ohin (LAHO) ­ "the Future Starts Today" - has a silk farm. Alfredo Guterres, project manager, said: "We joined the WISE project to train a women's group in Los Palos in mulberry and silkworm cultivation and two groups in Los Palos and Baucau in traditional cotton textiles."

Guterres hopes a Timorese silk industry will blossom. "Production is limited because we don't have enough raw materials. Sometimes we order silkworm eggs from Indonesia, but they hatch on the way. We plan to start a breeding programme so we can produce our own eggs," he said.

The WISE project culminated in a four-day trade fair in Dili in October 2008. Women representing the groups promoted their products and the fair generated $25,000 in profit.

Draining a sieve full of sizzling sweet-potato chips, Natercia da Costa smiled as she said, "The project has changed my life by giving me extra income. I feel happy, excited and proud to be doing this."


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