Apolonia dos Santos Soares, 29, is a student at the National University of Timor-Leste (UNTL). Originally from Ermera, Apolonia came to UNTL to realize her dream of studying international relations, and she plans to use her degree to contribute to the development of the country. Now in her final year of studies, she has not yet had the opportunity to apply what she is learning in a professional context.

In Timor-Leste, students like Soares have few opportunities to gain practical work experience while going to school. Many face challenges when entering the job market and employers, including NGOs, look for individuals with at least two years of work experience. At the same time, employers face challenges in hiring inclusive and diverse talent with the skills they need.

As   a   grantee   of   the   USAID/Timor-Leste   NGO   Advocacy   for   Good Governance Activity, Timorese NGO Many Hands One Nation (MAHON) Foundation established the Inclusive Fellowship Program in 2022. Designed to bridge this experience and skills gap, the fellowship connects women, youth, and marginalized persons to on-the-job training opportunities, supporting the professional development of the fellows and enhancing their overall knowledge, comfort, and skills in a professional environment.

Soares said, “Other values that I will take from this four-month fellowship with MAHON are work discipline and understanding the value of time and respect for each other.”

Soares applied to MAHON’s fellowship program in January 2022 and began the following month.  She has attended multiple trainings on gender equity and social inclusion and advocacy, and has learned critical, practical administration skills. She shared that while UNTL provided useful theoretical knowledge, it wasn’t until her time as a fellow that she was able to use these and other parts of her education in a practical application. In her words, “I will apply the skills I’m learning from MAHON like Excel, PowerPoint, and basic administration in my future career after I finish university.”

The fellowship allows students like Soares to grow personally and professionally and gain critical skills that they can apply beyond the program. With the help of their fellows during the program, MAHON is implementing activities supporting their mandate and contributing to the development of a more inclusive and diverse Timorese workforce.

To date, 29 graduate fellows are taking part in the Inclusive Fellowship Programs implemented by five NGO partners of the USAID/Timor-Leste NGO Advocacy for Good Governance Activity.

Read another story about the program’s impact here.

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