By Francisco JDA & Santina LDC
How do youth learn and be successful in life? There are two answers to this question. Some youth acquire their knowledge through formal education, then apply them in their everyday life. Others learn skills from everyday life in their family and applied that into their life. Domingos Pereira represents the reality of a young man who learns to farm from helping his family and using that experience to build a successful future. People say that experience is the best teacher in your life. For Domingos, his family and his family’s farm are his teachers. Domingos is now studying English at a private university in Dili, but he is also doing well in running an agribusiness activity.
Domingos Pereira is the eldest son of Manuel Fransisco Guterres and Helena da Silva. His parents from Ossu, Viquque, but moved to Dili in 1984. His family lives a simple peasant life. Domingos Pereira was born in Hera, Dili on the 14 of March 1993. He has four brothers and one sister. All the six siblings are still attending school, and they depend on the income from the family’s horticultural business to pay their school fees. For his mother Helena, Domingos had shown his responsibility since he was very young. He was active, love to learn about farming and also shared what he learned with others.
With the knowledge he has, Domingos Pereira gathered some other friends of his and started volunteer activities from 2015 to 2019. They move from one neighborhood to another to teach English language and Portuguese language to other young people who have no opportunity to attend a formal language course. Domingos used the interaction with the youth through the language classes to identify their potentials for productive activities. He believes that if the young people were prepared to go from one neighbourhood to another neighbourhood to teach voluntarily, then they should also be motivated to participate in activities that can generate income.
One thing that is also extraordinary in Domingos Pereira’s success is that he started the horticultural business at the time when COVID-19 was starting to spread in Timor-Leste and infecting many people. During this period, many businesses are shut down, people were moving back to their home villages. As the number of infected people increases the government declared State of Emergency, and lock down measures were put in place, limiting people’s movement. As consequences many people suffered economically. Data from UNICEF shown that 26% young people are living on low income during COVID-19. Domingos realized that in the situation calls for an intervention to increase young people’s income and at the same time to continue to provide food to the community. With all that thinking, Domingos established Youth Empowerment for the Future (YEF), with the ‘motto one person, one business’, and he brings together 6 young women and 19 young men to this group.
This success was also possible because Domingos discovered the social network that have already established among members of Domingos’ family. He thinks that what he is doing right now would empower his friends. YEF is initially only doing horticulture, but they later expand to poultry and fish farming as well. The first capital that Domingos Pereira has were vegetable seeds from his father and encouragement from his family. For his courage and achievements, Domingos was later got selected to participate in the Young South East Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) On Education in Malaysia in 2019, where he was also received an award.
YSEALI further inspire him to take initiative to support community by growing food. With this inspiration, together with over 20 members, YEF grows more vegetables in Hera. Domingos and his friend were also awarded Mission Driven Alumni Outreach (MDAO) from US Embassy in Timor-Leste. From this award they received funding that later increased their investment capacity.
But it was not because of his participation in YSEALI’s that made Domingos Pereira initiate agricultural activity. He starts growing vegetables many years earlier because his family’s life depended on agricultural activity. YSEALI helps him unlocking his potential to further develop.
From the fund that he received from the US Embassy Domingos Pereira and his friend start growing vegetables in 400 patches. Domingos Pereira projected that each of the vegetable patch could bring an income of about $200 to $250. This income is not just shared between Domingos Pereira and his friends. They save some of the profit to pay the land they rent, which is $1500 per year. During the time of COVID-19, this type of activity helps retail sellers to keep their business running, help families to put food on the table and also help Domingos Pereira and also his friends to get some income to support their daily needs. “At the beginning I got vegetable seeds from my father. Later, we also buy some seeds. For income, we projected to earn $200 to $250 every harvest. But COVID-19 have affected our profit, we can not get what we projected. Our actual income falls from $75 to $90 in each harvest, sometime even less than that”, Domingos explained.
Doing activity during the time of COVID was not easy, because restriction on movement of people and transportation reduces their sale, and consequently reduced their income. One thought that is hanging over their head is if the crop failed and they could not generate income that need to pay the land that they rent. Domingos Pereira understands the difficulties they face, and is doing his best to manage the group to face the reality. Even though they do not make big profit and their income often fluctuates, having their own income already relieve their parents from having to sustain their lives.
“It was a difficult time. This initiative was from me and my friend who have been conducting the educational activities together in various villages. When COVID-19 started to spread, most people thought they all need to return to their home town, as there is little one can do in Dili. Most of my friends in the group also live in Dili, renting apartment or living with relatives. They thought that returning to their village would only put additional burden on their parents. So, we gather together and come to Hera to start horticultural activity”, Domingos Pereira recalled the situation when they establish YEF.
While recognizing that the agricultural work is hard, for Domingos Pereira it has not become a hurdle. He thought “those who walk far would see more and know more”. Domingos Pereira and his friends are still in their early journey, but opportunity to succeed is in front of them and they are dare to take risk. Small incomes that they earn already help them to pay for their university fees, photocopies, transportation fee to school and other expenses.
“If you are doing agricultural work and you thought that it would not give you challenges then you cannot move forward, because doing agricultural work required persistence. You plant them today, you will not harvest them tomorrow, but you prepare them for two or three years, and you would need to work diligently”, said Domingos.
Domingos Pereira’s friend, Julio Neves Barros sees Domingos as a leader with vision. “He looks farther ahead, even at such a young age he is already thinking big, especially about how to develop the productive sector and to free Timor-Leste from the dependency on imported food”, said Barros. What Domingo and his friends are doing in the pandemic situation is already contributing to reducing their parents’ burden in paying for their school fee, cost of photocopying school materials, transportation cost and others, and at the same time this group helps to increase the agricultural produces.
From the agricultural activity Domingos Pereira and his friends can earn at least $150 every harvest. Domingos’ friends said that that little income is enough to sustain their life as students and lowering the burden of their parents.
Taking risk in life is not a new thing for Domingos Pereira. Born from simple family with various social problems that his parents have gone through made him to see the future with different perspective. His father has no high level education, they suffer in their early life, no money, and depend entirely on agricultural products to sustain their life.
Domingos’ friends also recognized he is a person with character. They acknowledged him as somebody who can lead and always looks for solution to challenges that the group is facing. In the YEFF, he is also known as a person that fully dedicates himself to what he believes.
With his friend in YEFF, Domingos does not only produce vegetables to supply to the market. They also cater for the supermarkets in Dili. For the group, being able to get their products on the shelfs of the supermarkets is already an achievement in itself. Supermarkets are also happy to receive their produce and value the efforts that those young people and encourage them to do more.
“In this supermarket we have witnessed young people growing their business with agricultural activity. We have seen some of them bought their own trucks; we have seen them build their houses. They are making progress in their life,” Teofilo da Silva, a Supervisor of LEADER Supermarket explained what he sees.
LEADER Supermarket is selling about 155 local agricultural products. They consider that by selling the products from your people they are motivating them. They encourage young people to grow fruits such as dragon fruit, watermelon, and strawberry. The supermarket suggested to young people to diversify their products.
Note: This publication made possible with the fund supported by Sekretaria Estadu ba Juventude no Desportu (SEJD) and Alumni Parlamentu Foinsae Timor-Leste (APFTL)