Volunteer Stories

Chelsea Johnson



Location of the project: Timor-Leste
Organization that sent the volunteer: Catholic Relief Services


Despite very little international development experience, Chelsea took the long 30-hour one-way flight to Dili twice in the span of a year to support the Timor-Leste Farmer-to-Farmer Program on a Tomato Production Trainers Manual Development and Organic Certification preparation assignment.

She worked with two different hosts and received great feedback from both. The first host, Centro Dezenvolvimentu Communiatrio (CDC), is a local non-governmental organization that was established in 2000 and is located in Baucau Municipality. This organization has a professional training center that delivers training to unemployed youth and communities in rural areas. The second host, PTC (People Trade Company), is a local export company whose activities are designed and developed to diversify the local economy in Timor-Leste.

While new to the program, Chelsea was very organized and flexible, and seamlessly adapted to the new environment and people. This enabled her to complete her assignment smoothly, even returning to Timor-Leste for the second assignment with host PTC.  Her second assignment focused on organic certification preparation for virgin coconut oil (VCO), which is a longer-term process beyond the two weeks she spent in country. As a result, she has continued to provide support to the host even upon her return to the US, guiding the host for a successful completion of their certification.


"We want to expand the market for our local products, especially Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO), and try to export them. We conducted research and concluded that Timor-Leste VCO could compete with a good quality in the global market. However, the production cost is too high compared to VCO from other countries because our Timorese women carefully process the product by hand and it takes long time. To sell Timor-Leste VCO in markets outside the country, we need establish a price to attract market interest despite high production costs. For this reason, we tried to find the way to apply for organic certification for Timor-Leste VCO product.

Chelsea Johnson has lots of experience as an inspector for organic certification. Therefore, she is familiar with audit institutions for organic certification around the world, the different certificates required by consumer countries, and the procedure to apply new product for organic certification. She visited VCO producers in Baucau and Liquica municipalities and observed its production process. From the short observation, she identified the documents that they needed to prepare to apply for organic certification, such as a VCO process flow diagram, equipment cleaning record, facility map, production record, and yearly field activity record. She also helped to prepare the draft documents and explained to us what data is essential for the organic certification. She contacted two audit institutions for organic certification, Control Union and Ecocert, and asked for quotations from these two institution for us to compare, and this information really helped us to consider the possibilities to proceed for the next step.

We decided to apply for the Control Union in February 2020 and started to complete documents required for the application in April. The communication between us and the Control Union running well. However, we finally decided to extend the application to next year due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions. The Control Union requires an in-person inspection and audit when we want to apply, but we don't know yet when will they will be able to visit Timor-Leste."


“We worked with a volunteer that has professionalism in the area that we need, and we feel very good because we got the answers and solutions very quickly and clearly from her”

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