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Timor-Leste delegation at Massey's International Office

Massey link to nation building in Timor-Leste


From Development Studies student at Massey to being at the forefront of building his own nation, Aurelio Guterres made a return trip to the Manawatū campus this week to strengthen ties that will help him in his massive task.

Professor Guterres, who gained a PhD in Development Studies in the 1990s and is now the Rector of the Universidade Nacionale de Timor-Leste (UNTL) in Dili, met with Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey as well as former classmate and now Development Studies programme leader Professor Regina Scheyvens.

He was joined by fellow distinguished Massey alumnus the Minister of Justice for Timor-Leste Dionisio Soares, and the Ambassador to New Zealand for Timor-Leste Cristiano Da Costa. The group also gave seminars to Development Studies students and staff about developments in Timor-Leste (officially the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, or East Timor), which gained independence from Indonesia to become the first new sovereign state in 2002.

Professor Guterres says the relationship with Massey is vital for his university in building capacity in the areas of course and curriculum development, and designing research to match the needs of the country. The two institutions signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2011 centred on academic collaboration, exchanges and support. This week’s visit focussed on how to build on the terms of the agreement as the country continues to develop. The bond also showcases Massey’s tradition and vision of sharing its expertise and advancing international engagement, says Bruce Graham, International Development Project Manager from Massey’s International Office.

 Professor Guterres is one of a number of the Massey graduates, including Mr Da Costa, who are in key leadership roles in their country. He says New Zealand, and Massey, proved to be true friends to East Timor during a turbulent period of its history as it sought independence from Indonesia (which invaded and occupied it in 1975 after it was decolonised by the Portugese, who had been there since the 16th century).  “True friends are those who stand by you in difficult times,” he said.

 The Southeast Asian nation of approximately one million people is undergoing a major transformation as it addresses the aftermath of decades of struggle for independence. Basic health and education issues, as well as land reform legislation and justice system reforms are top priorities, says Mr Da Costa.

 Professor Guterres is using his university experience to create a better future for his people. But he also made an impression during his studies, which he began in 1994 through a NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade scholarship to undertake a masterate programme. He was a member of the Massey University Student Association executive, and in 2012 was on the cover of Massey’s DefiningNZ magazine for a feature article which tracked his success story from student to education leader.

 “We are a young country, we are young people – and we are optimistic about the future,” he says. “It’s good to be back with an old friend and to see this relationship evolve”.

Caption: Michael O’Shaughnessy (International Office), Timor-Leste student Nene Correia de Almeida, Professor Regina Schyvens (Development Studies), Professor Aurelio Guterres (Rector of National University of Timor-Leste), Dionisio Soares (Minister of Justice Timor-Leste), Bruce Graham (International Office), and Cristiano Da Costa (Ambassador for the Republic of Timor-Leste).