My story

I was brought up to eat my vegetables, debate politics and care about the world. I protested all kinds of things in my adolescence, including Shell Oil in Nigeria, Pepsi in Burma, environmental issues, discrimination against immigrants.

Meeting Amy Goodman at age 17 really stuck with me as she told me about a small, forgotten place called East Timor suffering what amounted to a genocide. I didn’t forget this as I went to Brown University and ended up studying “Development Studies”.

I studied Portuguese during a semester in Rio, worked on the alternative weekly as a writer and designer, but also dedicated myself to activism to free East Timor, a country still living under the Indonesian jackboot. I met many inspirational activists from Timor, including fellow student Constancio Pinto, a young activist who had fled Dili in 1991 fearing for his life.

I even visited Timor to conduct research for my honours thesis in late 2000 to early 2001. By the time I left university, I wanted to move to East Timor to undo some of my simple “good guy” versus “bad guy” narrative about the place, especially as it was about to formally gain independence.

With a little boost from my mentor Jarat Chopra, I got a place on the Carter Center elections monitoring team. After that, I stayed on, volunteering with the Justice System Monitoring Programme, transcribing the proceedings of one of the largest serious crimes cases from the 1999 destruction of Timor.

And later helping briefly train young writers, designers and illustrators on CARE’s innovative magazine for kids called Lafaek, or Crocodile.

My first longer contract in Dili was with the dynamic Child Protection section of UNICEF. I was brought on to help reinforce a lobby of the first Timorese parliament to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

After that I took some time off and began studying Timorese history, informally working with political scientist Douglas Kammen and other friends to compile, translate and analyze documents about East Timorese colonial history.

Broke and eager to get back to work, in my second contract with UNICEF, still within the Child Protection Section, I developed a pilot youth theater project experimenting with Theater of the Oppressed techniques with an excellent Australian trainer. This pilot became the basis of a larger national project.

At age 24, I still could not see myself working as a development or aid worker, unable to eat dark chocolate or go to the indie cinema on a regular basis. So I applied for and got a Fulbright scholarship to Portugal to pursue some of the research started informally in Dili. I was a visiting scholar at the University of Lisbon under the guidance of Cristiana Bastos.

I geeked out in the colonial archives in Lisbon and ended up collecting more documents than I knew what to do with. I dreamed of creating a graphic novel (comic) of the events I was studying, but ended up doing a Masters in anthropology instead.

My thesis was based on research I conducted in East Timor during a civil conflict in 2006 in which the country came very close to self-destruction. My research too was about violence, even though in the colonial era, I think it is fair to say I needed a way out of this dark topic.

I moved my home base from Lisbon to London to work with the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, and began an intensive four year period of travel to Mozambique, Brazil and — no escaping — East Timor. Among other things, I promoted the use of blogs and social media to engage in policy debates and share best practice. I began to write about the issues that most interest me: primarily, communication and how to link strong traditional movements with online organising.

I also worked for Global Voices on a volunteer basis, which taught me a great deal about the possibilities for global, online collaboration and the importance of translation of citizen media. I met like-minded people, and a number of great spin-off projects I advised have helped me learn loads.

After leaving an international NGO, I went to Mozambique to work with the innovative and inspiring newspaper @Verdade, to help their newsroom dive into the age of “networked journalism”. In the Mozambican case, these networks include those limited to SMS on their mobiles but increasingly those gleaning news off of smartphones.

Even though I really enjoyed being part of something authentic and new in Maputo, I was a little tired of feeling like an “expat”. So I headed back to London, where I threw myself into a new venture, a social enterprise and charity called The Restart Project together with my friend Ugo Vallauri. The mission: nothing less than to “fix our relationship with electronics”. For too long, our electronics have been our one sustainability blindspot.

Ten years later, I got sick in the first wave of the pandemic and never really recovered. Covid triggered multiple serious health conditions for me, including myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME-CFS. I consider myself disabled with an energy impairment – please read Ed Yong's piece on “fatigue” to fully understand. I unwisely tried to push through for two years before leaving my job.

During a pause in 2022, I deepened my interest in degrowth, sufficiency and luddism (new and old).

While I'm not back to my pre-2020 health, I'm back to work part-time, with Rethinking Economics, a student movement attempting to throw a spanner in the ideological engine of neoliberalism.

We are now in the midst of massive economic and environmental upheaval. Now is the time to look for flashes of the possible, with a view to living viable, bold alternatives.

Taking nothing for granted, especially now, I am hoping this is only a half of a much longer story…

My email is

my email janet DOT gunter AT protonmail DOT com