Alola’s mid-year fair

Strengthening women’s participation in small business, increasing family income and preserving Timor-Leste’s cultural heritage.

An inside story from Alola’s mid-year fair and exhibition, July 2019, based on an article by Alolamedia / FransiskusXS published on facebook10 July 2019.

The Alola Foundation is committed to facilitating opportunities for women and handcraft producer groups to participate in a variety of economic activities. The annual Alola fairs –  mid-year and at Christmas – are one such opportunity, and a real solution to the obstacles faced by groups of craftswomen and men to sell their products.

In 2019, from Saturday 6 to Sunday7 July, Alola, through a program to strengthen the economic opportunities for women, once again held the Alola mid-year fair and exhibition. The fair, the 12th to date, was held at the Alola Foundation office in Dili and attended by more than 50 craft groups. Participants showcased their latest works and sold handicraft products including tais, pottery, toys from Atauro, sculptures, accessories, natural soaps, traditional medicines, coffee and local food.

‘We invited craft groups from all municipalities to participate in this exhibition . . . and sell their products’ said José Ximenes, manager of Alola’s economic empowerment program.

The 12th Alola fair was officially opened by the Australian Ambassador to Timor-Leste, Peter Roberts who was accompanied by representatives from Rotary – Club of Kew, representatives of Rotary 9550 and representatives from Rotary Dili.

Alola CEO Alzira Reis, during the opening session, expressed her gratitude for the commitment of donors who have provided support for the implementation of various programs including the 2019 Alola fair and exhibition. Ms Reis said ‘the success that we achieved will not be realized if there is no support from partners or donors such as Rotary who support this two-day exhibition, therefore, I thank Rotary for giving its commitment to support (the) Alola Fair’. Ms Reis also stated that the Rotary Club of Kew Australia not only provided financial support for the Alola fair but also for the Alola program for women’s economic empowerment.

The Ambassador Peter Roberts as representative of the Australian community in Timor-Leste acknowledges the commitment of Rotary Australia to its support for the people of Timor-Leste. He explained that the role of Rotary Australia was very important to strengthen relations between the people of Australia and the people of Timor-Leste. He said, ‘as Australian Ambassador, I am proud of the relationship between the people of Australia and the people of Timor-Leste. I always see many groups from Australia, groups from churches, groups from various schools, and various Australian Rotary Groups working in many parts of Timor-Leste (who are) committed to supporting the people of Timor-Leste’.

Ambassador Roberts said he was very pleased to be able to participate and have the opportunity to officially open the Alola 2019 exhibition. He asked all parties to support local products, especially local products representing Timor-Leste. ‘This event is to support the culture of Timor-Leste, the future of Timor-Leste, because it is important to support local products, support unique products and products that represent Timor-Leste’ he said.

Previously, the Alola Foundation held a two craft exhibitions and fairs each year – one before Easter and the other before Christmas. But after a review in 2018, Alola decided to implement a new approach. The Alola fair in the Easter period was transformed into the Alola mid-year fair, held between June and July. CEO Alzira Reis said, ‘because we see that during the Alola Easter (Fair and) Exhibition, the visitors who came were not so many, we decided to make an exhibition in mid-year in hopes of attracting more visitors, especially tourists’. Ms Reis said there was much hope that holding the two-day exhibition would not only strengthen the family economy, but also can provide support for the development of (this community) in the future. Ms Reis added, ‘we hope that in the future our activities can get support from the Australian Embassy, this is our dream’.

By the end of the two days, more than 2,000 people had visited 2019 Alola mid-year fair and exhibition. Foreign tourists; individuals, families and groups; also used this opportunity to see first-hand the unique crafts of the Timorese people and buy unique crafts directly from the producers. Maria José da Fonseca Monteiro who is the Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion (SEII) was also interested in visiting this exhibition. During her visit, the Secretary of State held direct discussions with several groups of craftswomen. She said that women’s involvement in the economic sector would strengthen family income. ‘Support for women’s groups does not have an impact on some people but has an impact on increasing income for families. We will continue to try to find strategies to continue to support this policy’. Ms Fonseca Monterio also said the SEII sought to find ways to continue to provide markets for local crafts, working together with other government institutions.

Milena dos Santos, coordinator of the craftswomen group from Atu-Aben village in the municipality of Bobonaro, was very pleased with the results of the Alola fair and exhibition. As a craft group that focuses on textile products, they found that many people visited the stall and bought the tais cloth offered. She said ‘from the two exhibition days, we were happy with the results we got, many people visited to buy our products’. She added that from the sale of tais, the group received a total of US $1,527. ‘Therefore, as a target group of the Alola program, I would like to thank the Alola Foundation for always organizing craft exhibitions’ Milena dos Santos said.

Program manager Jose Ximenes, explained that the income received by 53 craft groups was highly dependent on the quality of the products they sold and the tastes of the buyers. The Alola media team at the exhibition noted that several groups of artisans had demonstrated their ability to produce high-quality handicraft products and accommodate market tastes.

Revenues collected during the exhibition totaled USD $11,233.75.

Maintaining product quality and diversification is one of the challenges in the development of handicrafts in Timor-Leste. CEO Alzira Reis, asked craft producers to continue their efforts to improve product quality. She recommended ‘increased product quality and diversification’ in order to respond to market tastes. 

Rotary Club of Kew representative (and long time Alola supporter), Jill Forsyth was very appreciative and grateful for the efforts of the craft producers, for their commitment and ‘because they were heroes of the legacy of Timor-Leste’.

The development of the craft sector is one of the main fields of Alola’s women’s economic strengthening program. During 2018, the program focused on strengthening the capacity of women in rural areas through training and providing opportunities for market access with the aim of increasing income and preserving Timor-Leste’s cultural identity. As a result, the participation of rural women to participate in small businesses has increased and automatically has an impact on increasing an impact on increasing family income.