Field update: Local staff in Timor-Leste lead COVID-19 response

Across the world, Blue Ventures has been mobilising to face the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis amongst the coastal communities that we work with. Whilst some of our team have been repatriated or are having to work from home, many of our field staff are still able to access field sites and provide vital support to the isolated communities with whom we work. 

The main objectives of our field teams are: to reduce community transmission of the virus; to protect the most vulnerable people; to strengthen healthcare systems and support continued delivery of essential services; and to adapt existing livelihood programmes to ensure that communities can sustain channels of income. More information on our response can be found here.

In Timor-Leste, whilst some of our international staff members have been repatriated in light of the global pandemic, our local Timorese staff have been proactively leading Blue Ventures’ COVID-19 response with the communities that we work with both on Atauro island and mainland Timor-Leste.

To date, the country only has 24 confirmed COVID-19 cases, yet remains in a State of Emergency at least until the end of May. Our team has been given a special permit to leave Dili and visit communities in the districts for response efforts, and are dedicating a lot of their time to collecting information from communities on the impacts that the virus has had. Limits on travel mean that a lot of people aren’t able to access markets for fish, fruit and vegetables, which means prices are very unstable. Many fishers are selling at a low price, other vegetable sellers are charging more than usual. 

To better understand how we can best support fishing communities who have been affected by the pandemic, our teams have also been collating information on how the police are enforcing the State of Emergency and the subsequent impacts on fishing activity.

Like many of our field teams around the world, an important aspect of our COVID-19 response in Timor-Leste has been coordinating the provision of hand washing facilities to isolated communities and translating accurate health and safety guidance. Some staff have also represented Blue Ventures at community meetings to discuss ways in which we can support local people through the crisis.

For Armindo, who previously worked within our expeditions team as a dive and science assistant, this meant boldly approaching a village chief (Xefi) and requesting a list of every household in the village, specifying their age, gender and occupation. Approaching the village chief in this way is not always easy because of their respected position in the community, and for Armindo, it meant stepping out of his comfort zone and showing courage during the crisis.

Armindo represents just one example of the incredible ability of all of our staff to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic and go above and beyond their job descriptions to ensure that the communities we serve are supported. For many teams, the crisis has meant adapting routes of communication both with each other and with fishers.

In Timor-Leste, Blue Ventures’ conservation officer, Dedy, has been continuing to support the community fisheries monitoring (CFM) groups via daily phone calls and setting weekly ‘homework’ tasks to maintain relationships. These tasks are designed to build on what the CFM groups have been doing so far, and ensure that their skills in data collection are maintained, despite fishing restrictions being in place due to the State of Emergency. Tasks include fish identification, maths problems to do with the weight of fish in a bucket, as well as some questions about safety measures and social distancing.

Through all of these response efforts, we hope to continue to make informed recommendations on how to support the livelihoods of remote fishing communities in Timor-Leste, and to prepare them for the long-lasting impacts that the pandemic will undoubtedly have.

Thank you to our Timorese colleagues Dedy, Armindo, Mima, Ollie and Cristina, who continue to put communities first and show commitment to our mission despite the increasingly complex challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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