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Young people are heading to Korea for work

Changing Timor Leste's fortunes from afar

An instructor helps students learn Korean An instructor helps students learn Korean
  • Thomas Ora, Dili
  • Timor Leste
  • March 13, 2013
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With an estimated unemployment rate of around 20 percent, the number of young people from Timor Leste seeking employment in South Korea is growing steadily. Since both nations signed a 2009 Memorandum of Understanding on migrant workers, about 1,100 have gone to work in South Korean factories and fishing companies.

Among them is Gabriel Poldis Pinto, 30, who has worked for a South Korean fishing company in Seoul since October 2010.

Pinto comes from a low income farming family. His father Jose, 60, told ucanews.com that with Gabriel’s monthly salary of US$1,500, his son has now become the family breadwinner and changed its fortunes.

“We never encouraged him to work overseas because he is the eldest of our five children. But we had nothing better to offer him to guarantee his future,” said Jose, a former civil servant who turned farmer after Timor Leste gained independence from Indonesia.

Traditionally, parents do not let their first sons work far away from home, but economic hardship has forced many to seek greener pastures in foreign lands.

Gabriel has sent home US$3,000 since starting work in South Korea three years ago. The money has been spent on food, renovating the house and tuition fees for his sister.

“We used to eat once a day. But now we can eat a proper three meals a day,” Jose added.

The Pinto success story has encouraged more young people to look for work in South Korea. Before they can do so they must study the Korean language for 6-12 months. More than 1,800 youths dreaming of a better life are currently studying Korean in the capital Dili. 

Rosario dos Santos, 30, who finished studying Korean a few weeks ago, said he has signed a three-year contract with a fishing company and will be paid up to US$1,000 per month. He is due to go to South Korea at the end of March.

“I thank God I passed the Korean language course. It was very difficult to learn … both writing and speaking. I have many friends who haven’t passed yet,” he said.

Rosario says he is looking forward to working abroad and improving his family’s standard of living.

According to Bae Jae-ryong, deputy director of the Korean language program in Dili, young people from Timor Leste are doing very well in South Korea.

“They are disciplined and can speak the language well,” he said.

He says they can earn enough so that when they finish their contracts in South Korea they can start their own businesses once they return home.

Young people working in South Korea will learn many things, said Jacinto Barros Gusmao, Director-General of the Secretary of State for Professional Development and Employment.

“It’s like training. They get new skills, knowledge and experience and a good salary. When they come home they can put those skills into practice and can inspire others,” he said.

This year, Timor Leste will send 600 young people to South Korea.

“This is one government policy which aims to reduce the unemployment rate,” Gusmao said.

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