Margaret Happy, from Uganda, was a Progressio Development Worker in Timor-Leste with Rede Feto, a national network of women’s organisations, from May 2010 to December 2011. 

What have you done since leaving Progressio and what are you currently doing?

After leaving Progressio, I worked as a Consultant for Hanns R Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), an international organisation that promotes sustainable development, in particular in coffee producing countries.

I am currently working with the National Forum of People Living with HIV and AIDS Networks in Uganda, as an Advocacy Manager.

Please describe your role and the partner organisation that you worked with as a Progressio Development Worker

I worked with Rede Feto as a Gender Advocacy Adviser. Rede Feto is a national network of 24 women’s organisations. I supported them in strengthening the capacity of the organisation for a more empowered and effective engagement with different decision makers in the transition and peace building processes. 

What inspired you to become a Development Worker?

My inspiration for development work abroad started when I joined Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and worked in Vietnam and Ethiopia from March 2008 to April 2010. I enjoyed making a contribution to the lives of people in poorly resourced countries, while also learning the culture of the host country and how its citizens respond to the issues that affect them. I believed that being a Development Worker would provide me with the ideal opportunity to facilitate equal participation and opportunities among women and men. Gender advocacy is my area of interest. I wanted to share my skills and experience with others so that, through sharing skills, I could change lives. 

What did you enjoy most about your role, and of your experience as a Development Worker?

- I was able to make tangible contributions to achieving the overall goal of a European Commission funded three-year project, which was almost completing its second year by the time I left Timor-Leste. The project received a B+ from the EC’s external Result Oriented Monitoring mission.

- I enjoyed working with Rede Feto, especially advising the various staff/members of the women’s organisations in their own language - Tetum. I was able to share with them my expertise, skills and knowledge in gender and advocacy, and I also learnt a lot from them. I felt so happy when I saw members of Rede Feto put into action the advocacy skills they had acquired and successfully lobby various Members of Parliament to amend one of the laws on election for increasing women’s participation in the parliament. That was an exciting time, especially when we managed to win the support of the majority.

- I was so excited to have the opportunity to shake hands with the then President of Timor-Leste during a gala dinner event. The event was organised by Rede Feto and the Secretary for the Promotion of Gender Equality (SEPI) to rally support for Ms Milena Pires – the first ever Timor-Leste CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) Committee candidate. In my life, I have never had the opportunity to shake hands with the President of any country, including my own country, because they are always highly protected. However, in Timor-Leste, it was possible.

What were some of your main achievements while working as a Development Worker?

There were several including:

  • I successfully advised for the alteration of election laws, in particular a law that facilitates increased political representation of women at the national Parliament of Timor-Leste at a minimum of 30 per cent.
  • I strengthened the Women Caucus in Politics in Timor-Leste and facilitated their collaboration at regional level with Kemitraan in preparation for the 2012, 2013 and 2015 election processes.
  • I provided technical support to Rede Feto in the domestication of CEDAW and monitoring the implementation of the recommendation of the CEDAW Committee Concluding Observation in Timor-Leste.
  • I facilitated women organisations’ representation in each of the seven government National Priorities Working Groups, effective from 2011.
  • I facilitated the process for developing Rede Feto’s five year strategic plan for 2011-2015.
  • I advised Rede Feto on the process for developing the trainer’s manual on Gender Based Violence.

And what were some of the key challenges and lessons learnt?

I started early in Year One of the EC project, and I was faced with the difficulty that many assumptions made almost a year earlier during the development of the project on partner resilience and institutional strength had to be readjusted dramatically. This meant that I had to work extremely hard and network a lot very early on. I invested a lot in learning the local language and in establishing good personal relationships, which enabled me to quickly establish a foundation and turn the project in the right direction.

Did this experience change you as a person in any way? If so, in what ways?

The experience of working with a women’s network, which has 24 member organisations with competing demands, did not leave me the same. I learnt ‘not to postpone what I can do today’ because each day had its own demands and the members of Rede Feto were involved in activities on various thematic areas.

The experience also enhanced my ability to multitask. I wanted to respond to the real needs of the member organisations (some not directly advocacy) and I knew that once such needs were sorted out, then they could actively participate in advocacy work.

As the majority of the management of the women’s organisations could not speak English, I learnt Tetum. The Tetum I learnt benefited the wider community. I remember at my church, Christ for All Nations, every Saturday I interpreted from Tetum to English.

Did your experience as a Development Worker influence your career/ future direction, and help you to get to where you are today? If so, how?

Being a Progressio Development Worker transformed my life completely. My achievements in Timor-Leste enabled me to be shortlisted for my current job. My colleagues keep saying that since my project scored highly while working in a foreign land, they are confident that I will excel in Uganda as I advocate for people living with HIV. Working with Rede Feto expanded my skills and knowledge in gender advocacy and prepared me to work in any post-conflict setting.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a Development Worker?

Working as a Development Worker is one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences one could ever go through in life.

For any one who would like to become a Development Worker, it is important to make use of the opportunity that Progressio provides Development Workers during the orientation period to learn the language of the host country. There is power in speaking, writing and reading in the local language. My ability to speak, read and write Tetum facilitated team building at the workplace and enabled me to build rapport with the national Members of Parliament of the relevant committees. Parliamentary committee members were extremely happy whenever I introduced myself in Tetum. I managed to facilitate capacity building trainings in Tetum, so without needing to use an interpreter. This contributed to tangible results during my placement.

As a Development Worker, it is important to give more attention to team building at the beginning of the placement than rushing to achieve results. I strongly believe everyone is very important. Take time to learn about the individuals at the workplace. Learn about their personalities. Identity their strengths and exploit them. Identify their weaknesses and mitigate their impact on the overall performance of the individual.