USAID’s Hillary Clinton Scholarship Program has sponsored 12 Timorese individuals to study for Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in the United States. In addition to their studies, scholars also participate in a variety of academic, community service, and cultural exchange activities. The first three alumni graduated with Associate’s degrees in Business and returned to Timor-Leste in August 2015; nine are still in the United States pursuing Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in accounting, finance, agribusiness, business administration, and food processing & technology to align with USAID’s economic growth programs and address priorities in Timor-Leste.

The three alumni came home to Timor-Leste with the goal of passing on what they learned—namely the value of volunteerism and the importance of higher education and exchange—to youth. In September 2015, Tonysio Freitas Gomes, Natalina Pires, and Danira Corbafo da Costa visited 711 students from nine high schools—six in Dili and three in Maliana—to share their experiences and encourage students to seek out opportunities to further their education and give back to their communities. During the visits, the alumni helped the students understand the university and scholarship application process, culture shock, and ways students may help their communities. They also interviewed with local media outlets to spread the word to interested youth throughout the country through features on TV Education Timor and in local newspapers The Timor Post, Suara Timor Lorosae, and Diario Nacional.

Natalina Pires said, “USAID’s Hillary Clinton Scholarship Program’s outreach activities were an enjoyable way to interact with high school students—to help them respond to so many concerns. Students were so eager to hear about our experiences, both academically and personally. They were interested in finding out how to apply for a scholarship and how to prepare for it.” Danira Corbafo da Costa continued, “I was in the same position as those students before, so it was amazing for me to answer their questions based on my experience…”

While the alumni are gainfully employed, they still plan to strengthen the relationships they made in September by organizing community service and engagement opportunities for Timorese youth such as volunteer opportunities to teach English, organize debates at orphanages and local organizations, clean-up the environment, and participate in a high school basketball tournament. Through these activities, the alumni will continue to mentor fellow Timorese students to inspire and support them in their higher education goals, build their leadership skills, and instill the importance of giving back to their communities.