Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY February 28, 2021

Leading the Way in Timor-Leste: Endang Soares da Silva


For International Women’s Day 2021, we’re sitting down with women across East Asia and the Pacific who are taking on leadership roles and working towards an equal future in a COVID-19 world. Endang Soares da Silva is the Executive Director of Timor-Leste’s National Health Laboratory. She has led the laboratory and contributed to the national COVID-19 response in challenging circumstances. Thanks to her work, Timor-Leste has been able to perform COVID-19 tests in country and ensure that everyone has access to fast, reliable results. And she’s not stopping there. Endang is determined to upgrade the standard of diagnostics in Timor-Leste and transform laboratory medicine using the knowledge and networks she developed when studying in Australia.

What inspired you to start working in health?

I am currently the Executive Director of the National Health Laboratory of Timor-Leste. 

I am a Medical Scientist by Profession. I graduated with a Master’s in Laboratory Medicine from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. I have worked in Pathology since 2004 and love what I do. It was my childhood dream to be a doctor. That did not happen, but I realized my passion is in helping others. So, working in a medical laboratory allows me to assist doctors to correctly diagnose patients. 

How was your work impacted by the pandemic?

This is something very new to all personnel in the health industry. This pandemic has greatly impacted pathology as well as all other health-related fields. The National Health Laboratory has increased its testing capacity with assistance from the Timor-Leste Government, World Health Organization and International NGOs.

The laboratory is now able to analyze up to 400 Covid-19 tests per day with a turnaround time of 72hrs. In emergency cases results can be available within hours. The laboratory staff are all learning every day, the new approaches and skills needed to live in a world with COVID-19.

Do you think the pandemic has presented new challenges for women in Timor-Leste

Yes, it has presented new challenges, or should I say added to the other challenges that we as working women and homemakers already face at home and work.

In our culture women are seen as homemakers , yet we wear multiple hats at one time. For women who choose to work or are career orientated and are mothers, its particularly challenging. We must manage the household, be a teacher to the kids, a cook, a nurse, and a breadwinner (whether its working in an office or selling crops at the market). It’s a balancing act we do day in and day out.

I love what I do, and I love my family and I am grateful that I have a great support system. We work as a team to overcome the challenges faced.

Do you think the pandemic has created any positive changes for gender equality in Timor-Leste?

Yes, men and woman spend more time at home with the family as well as sharing of household tasks and care of children.

Some men may stay at home for longer hours during the lockdown and can see the importance of the role that men and woman equally share to assist the family.

This year's theme is 'Women in Leadership' - is there a female leader that inspires you? Why do they inspire you?

One name: Jacinda Ardern the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Her focus on keeping her country and her family safe. Her focus was primarily on minimizing the impact of the pandemic on lives and livelihoods of New Zealanders. Focusing on both health and the economy shielded the country to an extent compared to its counterparts globally.

During the early stages of the Pandemic, there were Timorese students stuck in Wuhan, China (the center of the coronavirus outbreak). Jacinda Ardern sent a plane to bring her people and Timorese and other nationalities back to New Zealand so that they could make their way home to their respective countries. That is a woman in leadership. She makes hard decisions but she also cares.

What do you think needs to be done to ensure more women step up into leadership positions in Timor-Leste?

From my own point of view, it all starts from home. We empower our girls by supporting them in all that they want to do. There is much emphasis on boys, and boys are always put first. But as parents we can treat them all equally. In the classroom teachers play an important role in shaping and guiding the students.

As a working woman the employer needs to be supportive by fostering an environment where women are empowered to learn and move into management roles. In my role as the Director I encourage my personnel to go for further training in their respective fields. 

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy working together with the whole National Health Laboratory Team. I like to visit each department to check in with staff needs, hear complaints and discuss how to solve issues that arise together. I have an open door policy - if any staff would like to raise an issue they are welcome to come to my office and express their concerns.

I also enjoy collaborating with international organizations and government representatives as it broadens your views and builds your network. The results speak for themselves as you can see from the buildings and work done here at the Laboratory as well as the equipment that we have, which have been generously supported by different donors and partners.

Do you have any advice for women in Timor-Leste?

Work hard and be committed in what task or job you’re given. If you are not given opportunities, create them for yourself and others around you. Do not wait for things to be given to you. Nothing is free in this world. And lastly surround yourself with friends who believe in you and support you in what you do.

I have been fortunate to have the experience of going to look for opportunities with strong support and motivation from my family. Being a wife and a mother of two young girls did not stop me in pursuing my Masters degree in Laboratory Medicine as I was sure that when I returned from university, I will gain skills and knowledge and be able to contribute back to the family, community and country as a whole.

As a woman and a leader, I believe in myself that I can do something, and I must do it, even if at least a small change can give a positive impact on someone’s life and help to keep the country safe from the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

It is my hope to make a lasting contribution to improve the provision of health diagnostic services in Timor-Leste. I would also like to go into research, focusing specifically on the detection, diagnosis of cervical cancer in my country. From what I have seen it has the highest mortality rate in terms of cancer in women in Timor-Leste. I hope in my time as the Executive Director of the National Health Laboratory I can introduce a new Hematology and Cytopathology department to broaden our testing and diagnostic capabilities.

**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.