Timor-Leste (East Timor)

Timor Leste (also known as east timor and timor-leste) market scene

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CRS in Timor-Leste (East Timor)

Timor-Leste (East Timor), an island nation north of Darwin Australia, is one of the world's newest countries. There is a long history with the Catholic Church in Timor, beginning with the colonization by the Portuguese Dominican mission in 1556.  Timor-Leste was under Portuguese rule until it joined other Portuguese colonies in declaring its independence on Nov. 28, 1975.  Nine days later, it was invaded by Indonesia and struggled for independence until the international community finally responded in 1999.  During the occupation, much of Timor- Leste’s already fragile infrastructure was destroyed, and even today the country is still recovering.

In 2002, Timor-Leste became the first new nation of the millennium. Although Timor had some internal struggles in 2006, the elections in 2012 were peaceful in part due to a CRS campaign to “pray for peace.”

Timor’s 24 years of conflict during the Indonesian occupation has left many in the country without access to basic services and few options for livelihoods. CRS now works here on several fronts to improve health, food security, income generation and ongoing peacebuilding.


People served: 36,007

Population: 1,291,358

Size: 5,743 sq mi; slightly larger than Connecticut

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CRS' History in Timor-Leste (East Timor)

From 1979 to 1986 during the Indonesian occupation, Catholic Relief Services Timor-Leste was a sub-office of CRS Indonesia, carrying out emergency and food programs. After the 1999 referendum for independence, CRS coordinated with church partners to provide relief assistance to families affected by the ensuing violence of the pro-Indonesia militias.

CRS Timor-Leste became an independent country program in June 2000 to better respond to the devastation of East Timor and work directly with partners and beneficiaries. Today, CRS has two offices in Timor-Leste, the main office in Dili and a sub-office in Baucau in the eastern part of the country.  

The majority of families in Timor-Leste live in rural communities and more than 80% make their livings as subsistence farmers. Many struggle to grow enough food to put on the table year round. Catholic Relief Services and our local partners work with farming communities to increase food production as well as promote simple technologies for families to have safe places to store the food that they grow, ensuring they have seed for the next planting season. CRS also helps to increase the choices that farmers have so that they can grow a variety of crops, become more resilient to the long-term effects of climate change and ensure the availability of nutritious foods for healthy families.  

East Timor has suffered from numerous man-made disasters that Catholic Relief Services has helped them to respond to in the past. Moving into the future, CRS and our local partners help reduce the risks of natural disasters such as increased landslides and flooding in some areas, or the threat of drought and limited water resources for agriculture and household use. 

CRS is supporting communities to become stronger and more resilient by helping families have enough food, engaging communities to manage natural resources in an inclusive and sustainable way, and strengthening community level structures to be able to respond to disasters when they occur.  

Timor-Leste has one of the world’s worst nutrition rates. CRS is working with mothers’ groups to show them the importance of a good diet, how to prepare nutritious food and how they can grow their own nutritious foods locally.  

Building on its experience in community peacebuilding, CRS helps prevent domestic violence, promoting non-violent methods of communication and ensuring that all women feel safe in their homes. Since peacebuilding is an active and ongoing process, CRS also designs our projects to be inclusive and participatory, while promoting democratic decision-making.