Da Conceição noted that it is important to highlight the cooperation efforts undertaken between Cuba and Timor-Leste. Photo: Yaimí Ravelo

Speaking to Granma, Minister of State, Coordinator of Social Affairs and Minister of Education of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, António da Conceição, who made an official visit to Cuba June 12-15, expressed his gratitude for the ties of friendship and collaboration which unite the island and his country.
“This is my third visit to Cuba and I feel that it’s very close to Timor-Leste, because although we are geographically distant, Cuba is extremely close to Timor-Leste in terms of cooperation and support,” highlighted the official.
He also praised the island’s contribution to health and education in his country, and diplomatic relations between the two nations, celebrating their 15th anniversary this year.
Da Conceição recalled that when Timor-Leste gained its independence in 2002, Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro offered the nation the opportunity to send 1,000 youths to study medicine in Cuba, all of whom are currently offering health services across the South Asian country.  
According to the interviewee, Timor-Leste is prioritizing the development and improvement of teacher training. “We are currently thinking about education cooperation, following on from all our previous efforts and focusing more on the field of teacher training,” stated Da Conceição.
“I am currently looking into the possibilities of sending more students to be trained in Cuba as teachers, who will then go on to teach in schools in Timor. Today, we already have 25 youths studying at the Enrique José Varona Higher Pedagogical Institute; which was a result of my previous visit here, when we signed a corresponding agreement. On the basis of this agreement we hope to send a similar number of students to Cuba to train as teachers every year,” he stated.
According to Da Conceição, it is important to highlight the cooperation efforts undertaken between the two countries, citing programs such as the Yo sí puedo (Yes, I can) Cuban-developed literacy method, through which over 193,000 citizens were taught to read and write during the early years of Timor-Leste’s independence. The country is aiming to expand these efforts through the implementation of new collaboration programs which will see Cuban experts and professors offering consultation services.
He also emphasized the importance of the National University’s Medical Faculty, created in 2005 on the initiative of a Cuban medical brigade serving in the country, and which receives support from Cuban professors and young people from Timor-Leste who trained as doctors on the island, several of whom are studying for their specialties there.
“Another thing we learned from Cuba is that the faculty of medicine is closely connected to the work of hospitals,” with efforts currently underway to establish a similar system in Timor-Leste under the management and guidance of the Ministry of Health, explained Da Conceição.
Educational collaboration is set to expand, while our vision is to later see three-way cooperation between Cuba, Timor-Leste and Pacific Island countries, where our doctors will be able to offer services, and youths from those countries will have the opportunity to study at Timor’s Medical Faculty, benefiting the entire Asia-Pacific region and facilitating the training of doctors in this part of the word, he noted.
“Why are we looking toward Cuba? Because of the sprit, motivation, and total commitment with which its teachers educate young students, which in turn strengthens the sense of nationhood. We want to educate our young people and for the people of Timor-Leste to be the ones to undertake this work; and language won’t be a barrier because at the end of the day, Portuguese has some similarities with Spanish.
“We are prioritizing Psychology, Anthropology, History studies - disciplines which are all closely linked - in order to promote civic and civil education,” explained the Minister.
“We have a population of 1.3 million, which compared to other nations tells us that we are a small country. But one important thing to highlight is that the majority of our population is young, with annual growth of about 4%. As such, training this generation and preparing it for the future represents a challenge,” concluded Da Conceição.