by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
In a quiet corner of Timor-Leste’s rugged mountain country, the town of Maliana had an unexpected visitor earlier this month – U.S. Ambassador to Timor-Leste Judith Fergin. Her purpose on that day: to meet a young boy named Aparicio and deliver good wishes and a bag of presents all the way from Maine, United States.
Sponsored through ChildFund, 12-year-old Aparicio’s connection with an American family halfway round the world was fostered through five years of swapping letters and photos. The ambassador’s visit suddenly made that connection more real.
“I come from a very small town in the United States,” Ambassador Fergin greeted Aparicio and his parents, Titu and Jacinta. “They were so excited when they found out I was coming to Timor-Leste. One family said, ‘We know a little boy called Aparicio who lives in a town called Maliana.’”
Welcomed to Maliana with a song from a ChildFund Early Childhood Development (ECD) class, Ambassador Fergin noted the bond of goodwill between the two countries. “We are so glad we know ChildFund in America and ChildFund here, and we are building bridges today,” she said.
Typical of Timor-Leste’s large families, Aparicio is one of six children. He likes being part of a big family, because “we play together and help each other,” he said. An avid football player and fan of Lionel Messi, Aparicio wants to be a high school teacher when he grows up. He already speaks the local language and the national languages of Tetun and Portuguese. Yet, when asked by Ambassador Fergin if he wanted to learn English when he was older, Aparicio responded with an enthusiastic “yes.”
Aparicio and his siblings have benefited in many ways from their involvement with ChildFund. A new water well near their school means that they can access safe drinking water when they need it, while training on hygiene and malaria prevention helps them stay healthy. Before the well was built, they walked 1.5 km [1 mile] to the river to collect water. Aparicio and his siblings also enjoy educational theater performances about children’s rights, performed by a ChildFund volunteer drama group.
Additional contributions sent by Aparicio’s sponsors enable Titu and Jacinta to afford books and clothes for their six children. Some families in their village have also received materials through ChildFund to repair their homes. Young children in this community attend ECD classes that prepare them for formal schooling. Aparicio also benefits from knowing that his sponsor family is interested in him and his progress.
Approximately 2,700 families in the United States sponsor ChildFund children in Timor-Leste. Since Timor-Leste gained its independence in 2002, the United States has invested in the capacity of the youngest nation in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly through democracy, governance and economic growth initiatives. When individuals like Aparicio’s sponsor family reach out to families in Timor-Leste, new connections are formed that promote further understanding and development.
Titu, Aparicio’s father, says his son’s relationship with ChildFund and his sponsors has benefitted the entire family. The feeling is reciprocated, as Ambassador Fergin explained, “They [Aparicio’s sponsor family] have four children, and they think of Aparicio as number five.”