Jo Sampford with Dr Jose Ramos-Horta
Jo Sampford with Dr Jose Ramos-Horta
6 December 2010

UQ international relations student Jo Sampford never guessed that attending a small Tuesday-night Oxfam forum in Brisbane would lead to working in the office of Timorese President and Nobel Peace Laureate Dr Jose Ramos-Horta.

As part of the Australia Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) program, an AusAID funded youth volunteering initiative, Ms Sampford, along with 10 other young Australian students, travelled to Dili to embark on a nine-month internship.

"Our projects varied from working in the government departments to the sprawling UN mission to small NGOs in different sectors, which include human trafficking, environment, health, employment services, women, and the arts," Ms Sampford said.

She was placed in the Presidential Office, working on the President's international relations and peace-building agendas.

"I would never know what new tasks and challenges lay around the corner and my work was incredibly broad, from drafting letters and press releases to facilitating relationships between stakeholders," she said.

"For example, I was asked to write to the then PM Kevin Rudd regarding the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and condolence letters to the head of countries that encountered natural disasters, such as the Haiti earthquake.

"I also focused on two headline tourism and sporting events: the Tour de Timor mountain bike race and the inaugural Dili City of Peace International Marathon.

"The Marathon itself was an enormous and mind-bogglingly complex operation; a race that literally stopped the city of Dili for six hours; with over 1300 runners, 400 volunteers, and 122 road intersection closures, requiring extensive volunteer recruitment and training and detailed coordination with police, ambulance and security services."

During these busy days, Ms Sampford gained insight into the different spheres of Timorese government, diplomatic corps, the development sector, and the community at grassroots level.

However, she said she still had much to learn.

"Recognising one's inexperience is healthy," Ms Sampford said.

"I think the most important thing is to blend this humility with energy and really apply yourself to listening and learning as much as possible from academics, practitioners, and from the people and places you hope to contribute to."

For students who are looking for more experience while studying, Ms Sampford has some advice.

"Get out there and get engaged," she said.

"There are lots of local activities in Brisbane and the rest of Australia which provide ample opportunities to develop your skills.

"It's good to go along to public lectures and forums to get the news and information. Volunteer wherever you can."

Ms Sampford said the internship had helped her decide what to do after graduating.

"There is a common saying in Timor that 'those who taste the coconut juice are bound to return'. After my graduation, I plan to return to East Timor to give back what I have gained," she said.

"Building on the model UN program we've established at UQ, I hope to initiate a Diplomacy Skills Training Program with students of the National University of East Timor in partnership with the UN Mission."

For more information about internship opportunities available through the School of Political Science and International Studies, please contact Internship Coordinator, Dr Frank Mols,

Media: Doris Zhang, or Naomi Smith