Shout Out for World Vision
Over the last four years, Teresa has been helped through the World Vision Baucau Community Economic Development Project and ANZ Bank. Here, she has learned valuable skills such as how to test soil and water, fertilise and grow crops more effectively and sell her goods for a better price.
Life has not always been easy for Teresa da Costa and her husband. As with many farmers in tiny, drought-prone Timor-Leste, there have been times when the family has gone hungry, struggling to feed their nine children and making ends meet.
“I grow cucumber, tomatoes, chili, papaya, maize," Teresa says. “Some we eat and some we sell."
Farming is the only source of income for the da Costa family, who live in the Bacau district, 125 km from the steamy capital, Dili. Baucau has a cooler climate than Dili and is famed for its tomatoes.
Here, on the north-eastern coast of one of Asia's poorest nations, land degradation, changing weather patterns and poor access to markets provide real challenges. It's hard for local farmers to grow enough food to feed their families and make sufficient income for their basic needs.
Teresa worked for many years caring for the pigs of a local pastor. It was hard work and she earned just $41 AUD each month. After work, Teresa would labour in her own garden, planting vegetables for her family, sometimes trekking excess produce to the local market to sell.
Traditional methods of agriculture didn't always produce enough food, particularly in Timor Leste's “hungry season" which runs from November to March.
Often, Teresa and her family would eat just one or two meals each day, of maize, sweet potatoes, taro and perhaps jack fruit.
She's added more crops to her repertoire - nutritious vegetables like mustard, chilli and beans along with the staples of cassava and potatoes.
Today this 42-year old mother and grandmother is an important community leader. “The community comes to me to ask questions," she says, proudly.
She heads the Kaletae village farmer's group, where she teaches these improved farming techniques to her members. They've seen Teresa's family thrive and they are keen to do the same. As local market facilitator, Teresa co-ordinates crop sales, getting a better price for everyone.
She also travels to other villages to pass on what she has learned. “Once a week I go to see that they are looking after their plants and fertilising their soil. I give them seeds and help them to plant tomato seeds, which are in small satchets, or maize which comes in 10kg bags."
Twice a week, a truck from the DiliMart supermarket chain in the capital turns up to a nearby town to collect the group's produce.
Teresa's training has led to real improvements in her family's lives. Through the village savings and loans group, she puts money away each week so her kids can go to high school and perhaps university and also afford medical treatment.
“With the money I make from selling vegetables, we can buy milk for the children. We put some into our savings and if the children get sick we can take them to the clinic," Teresa says.
“Before we just ate two times per day, now we have vegetables we can eat three or four times per day, whenever we like."
Training Teresa and other Baucau farmers is a real investment in the district's future. They all learn that by working together, they can jointly improve their destinies, so there's a wonderful multiplier effect from the training.
ANZ employees have supported the farmers of Baucau since 2014 by donating World Vision through ANZ;s workplace giving program. Staff donations are matched by ANZ dollar for dollar, and those funds are directed to the Baucau Community Economic Development Project. Funding support can also include the World Vision’s child sponsorship program.
The World Vision Baucau Community Economic Development Project targets around 5,000 small farmers like Teresa with training and support, so that they can become community leaders and multiply the effects of their training throughout the district.
Farmers learn to build sustainable agricultural systems that are profitable and low-risk. Using improved seed varieties and safe storage containers lets farmers produce their own quality seeds for the next planting season, so they don't have to buy seeds from commercial traders.
Fruit trees supplied to the farmers are a long-term investment in erosion control and food security, as well as providing another income stream.
ANZ has partnered with World Vision for over a decade and in the 2015 financial year, the combined total of workplace giving donations and ANZ matched giving came to over $295,000.
Farmers need information and education to make the jump from subsistence grower who barely feeds their own family into a farming business.
Once they make that jump though, they can provide for their family's food, shelter, education and health care while also contributing much-needed food to the people of Timor-Leste.
World Vision programs give ongoing training in agricultural techniques, business planning, and financial management, so that farmers can produce high quality, in-demand products, and negotiate successfully with buyers.
Since 2012, the Bacau project has provided agricultural training to over 2,000 farmers, trained more than 1,500 farmers to access new markets, trained more than 600 farmers in post-harvest processing skills, established 24 savings and loans groups in 14 villages and taught more than 500 farmers financial management and simple bookkeeping.
It's a hugely effective use of donations. The people who receive this support are not receiving charity – they are receiving hope, and the opportunity to change their future.