Lacoliu village (or ‘suco’, as it’s called in Tetum) is unique – because as long as anyone here can remember it has had a female village chief.

Women just happen to have been elected here because they have been the best candidates with good policies. Other villagers have seen the good that the women in their community do and trust them to make good decisions for them and their families.

Batista Ximenes

In June 2011 Batista Ximenes (above) became the Suco chief. Although she was enthusiastic she recognised that she lacked the skills and knowledge needed to achieve her ideas for the village. She asked the Rural Development network based in Baucau for help with managing finances and collecting and analysing data about the village and people who lived there. Rede Feto, the women’s network, ran workshops on tackling domestic violence and the complaint procedure women should follow.

The women here sew traditional Timorese Tais and grow sweet potatoes to be sold at the market in the town of Kaliki, about an hour away by car. As they have no car, transportation is a problem and bringing their goods to market is not easy. Once there, however, all of their produce normally gets sold.

Lacoliu has won a national competition for the most organised village in the whole of Timor Leste, evidence of which can be clearly seen in their community centre (or village hall).

Lacoliu villageA photo of the village

Kids at Lacoliu villageKids in the village centre

Lacoliu village hallThe village hall

But that is now, and life has not always been this way for the people of Lacoliu. During the 1990s the villagers offered food and shelter to both Indonesian troops and members of the resistance army. When the Indonesians withdrew in 1999, the soldiers remembered the villagers’ hospitality and did not burn down their houses – as they did almost everywhere else.

Before the first democratic elections in 2002, people in the nearest town found out about Lacoliu’s accommodation of the Indonesian army and burnt more than half of the village down themselves. The people who had taken revenge on the village were members of the party which was elected and when the President found out about the attack he came to Lacoliu to apologise. He gave them money to build the community centre.

The village remains one of independent thinkers despite the then President’s intervention 10 years ago. The different parties’ policies are discussed before elections but people are completely free to vote for whichever party they like, although most do end up voting the same way.

Having a female leader gives women a strong voice in the community and by working together they help to support one another - a process that Progressio is proud to support, through our development worker, Victor Owuor (pictured below).

Victor Owuor

Lucy Jenkinson is Progressio’s media officer. She visited Timor-Leste in September 2012. All photos taken in Lacoliu by Lucy.

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