By Anne Scott,
Vice President of Global Programs
Note: This is the second of two blog entries from Anne’s visit to Timor Leste.
Heading east out of the main city of Dili, we climb up and through a mountain pass to be rewarded with a glorious view of an emerald sea, dotted with wooden fishing boats and a coastline of white beaches interspersed with dense, green mangrove forests, which are now endangered by rapid development throughout Asia, but still in tact in this part of Timor-Leste.
Small village compounds, where numerous fish nets are spread out to dry in the morning sun, appear along the road every now and again. The sea gives a deceptive impression. If you can take your eyes away from the emerald waters, you can notice the salty, sandy soil to the left of the road, and the brown, parched mountain sides rising up to the right, and you are reminded that not enough water is available to sustain the people living here.
With funding from the European Commission, ChildFund is bringing food security to children and families in 63 villages in this area. The ChildFund team established a farmer field school, which models and teaches skills in seed cultivation, catching rainwater, intensive farming of high yield vegetable crops and alternative staple foods, and goat rearing. ChildFund Sweden, a partner organization of ChildFund International, donated a water tank to supply the farmer field school.
Youth facilitators from surrounding communities are selected to attend the school and then introduce in their home villages these practices aimed at producing adequate food for all. Along the way, the youth gain important livelihood skills and the opportunity to become leaders in their communities.
Children dressed in colorful, hand woven Timorese sarongs greet us with a “snake dance” accompanied by drum and metal gong. We are presented with our very own farmers hats and traditional baskets, expertly woven from palm fronds.
After touring the field school, we sample the delicious, organically grown sweet potatoes, taro and cassava, spiced with garlic and chili. We wash it down with the rich, heavily sweetened local coffee, topping it off with a banana.
Having shared in the generous hospitality, we hear of their experience of the farmer field school. They are happy about the new farming skills they have acquired and the greater quantity and variety of vegetables. They want to expand their activities to include cattle rearing. They remain concerned about the water supply and see a need for more water tanks in more villages.
Stunted growth, rickets and other conditions related to longstanding, inadequate nutrition are commonly seen here. With food security comes improved nutrition and calorie intake for growing children and mothers during pregnancy, as well as greater strength for all parents.
In helping these communities to build food security, the ChildFund team has also brought a deeper sense of security, underlying their motivation to make expanded plans for the future.