Story of Gil Zairo de Assunção Soares Ximenes! 

Alumni and environmentalist Gil Zairo de Assuncao Soares Ximenes was born in 1994 and grew up in Dili during the war for independence. He started primary school in the early 2000’s and vividly remembers walking through burnt out houses and destroyed infrastructure on his way to school.

Despite the destruction around him and the trauma he experienced as a child, he felt excited to start his formal education.

‘I felt a joyous sense of freedom and peace and kept my head held high. My heart was filled with excitement for my first time at school.’

After primary school Gil relocated to Baucau to study at high school where he began to develop his passion for the environment. Noticing changes in his surroundings as a result of urban and national development, Gil was concerned to see the ocean where he used to spearfish becoming more polluted with oil waste, the coastal freshwater fountains starting to become saline, and his beach playgrounds covered with waste transported by the river during rainy season.

Motivated to find out more, Gil applied for an Australia Awards scholarship to study for a Bachelor of Earth Science at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in 2013.

His studies at QUT taught him about the Earth’s changing processes, both natural and man-made, and its resources. He also undertook field trips in Australia, which gave him exposure to very different environments.

Gil also describes his time studying in Australia as providing him with skills to carry out well planned research and giving him access to a network of national and international alumni with relevant expertise.

Since graduating Gil has become an active member of the Timor-Leste Australia Alumni Association (TL3A) and leads the sports and music group, two other big passions in his life. He strongly recommends that newly returned scholars engage with the TL3A to get help starting or continuing their career as well as taking part in local development activities. He also recommends alumni find out about the Graduate Internship Program (GIP).

When Gil returned to Timor-Leste from Australia, he built on his degree securing work as an environmental scientist with Cardno assessing and monitoring water quality at the Tibar Bay during the dredging phase of the Tibar Port construction. Gil said this experience,

‘Working at Tibar solidified my understanding of environmental standards and development activities on a larger scale and has contributed to where I am today.’

In 2020 Gil moved to UNDP as an environmental consultant, working on a number of technical projects in Timor-Leste and Thailand, where he used the study and research skills gained at university to get up to speed with projects and ensure they were implemented effectively.

Most recently Gil has been on secondment in Fiji, a small island developing state like Timor-Leste. His work there built on assessments previously conducted in Timor-Leste with the Secretariat of State for Environment and exposed him to the different development approaches Fiji has undertaken to protect its environment, including an advanced legal framework.

‘The consultancy assignment with UNDP in Fiji was a great learning curve, particularly to better understand the application of my skills both professional and academic, in a country that is geographically similar but has a different in culture and development context.’

‘Assisting another country to fulfil their National Environmental Commitment, while actively supporting some of the relevant environmental and climate change projects with UNDP in my country, is my proudest moment in my professional career to date.’

With countries in the Asia Pacific region like Timor-Leste at the sharp end of climate change and the catastrophic impacts of the April 2021 cyclone, Gil understands that there is significant environmental work to be done to build Timor-Leste’s resilience and capacity to adapt.

Gil admires how many Timorese youth are actively involved in addressing the environmental challenges at community level and believes young people can play an important advocacy role in addressing the environmental issues that could strengthen the country’s adaptive capacity, both at the local and national level.

He also knows that building resilience to climate change requires large scale improvements in the quality of Timor-Leste’s infrastructure and drainage, waste management, urban planning, and knowledge of natural geological conditions.

Living in Dili, Gil is aware how easy it is to focus on work and be distracted by daily living. It’s why he says marking Earth Day is so important as a time to celebrate its beauty, to remind ourselves how our actions impact the earth and our environment and to ask ourselves is there something we could simply do to contribute better to conditions of our environment such as planting trees or cleaning our villages.

‘When we take care of the Earth, we take care of our life, and the life of our children to come; not only for today, but every day. Happy World Environment  Day’