By Zitu Fernandes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
For most of us, drinking a glass of water is a simple undertaking. Yet for women like Estela in Timor-Leste, it can take the better part of a day to fetch and prepare water to drink.
Estela lives in Maliana, a remote town near Timor-Leste’s border with Indonesia. Every morning, Estela walks about a kilometer [0.62 miles] from her house to the river to collect water. “In the rainy season, the water in the river is very dirty.… Then in the dry season we sometimes can’t find water in the river,” she says. “We must dig a little bit into the bank of the river in the early morning to get water.”
Once Estela collects the water, she filters it for four to five hours. She then collects wood to build a fire on which to boil the filtered water. Finally, sometime in the afternoon, the water Estela collected in the morning will be ready to use for drinking and cooking. Even then, she admits, “sometimes, we can’t filter it enough.”
When her children get sick, Estela worries that it’s because of the water. “For many years we have lived in Maliana…and the water we use is dirty. We never get clean water,” she says.
On the whole, water quality is steadily improving in Timor-Leste. In 2009, 66 percent of the population had access to an improved water source, compared with 48 percent in 2001. However, there are still many people, usually women and children, who spend hours each day trying to source clean drinking water.
ChildFund Timor-Leste has been working with communities in Maliana and surrounding villages to build long-lasting water and sanitation systems. In the last eight months alone, 42 toilets have been built in the district with the active participation of community members. In addition, ChildFund has rehabilitated and upgraded one school water supply system, benefiting more than 400 schoolchildren. ChildFund Timor-Leste has also held hygiene promotion sessions attended by around 400 schoolchildren and community members.
Now, ChildFund is planning the next phase of its water and sanitation program, which will include establishing water access in Estela’s village. Each new water system will save many women and children hours of work each day, while also improving their health. “We hope someday that we will have clean water in our village, the same as people in other villages… [that] we are not alone,” says Estela.
Reporting by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste has some of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality in the world. More than 5 percent of Timorese children die before their fifth birthday, in comparison to 0.4 percent and 0.8 percent of children in Australia and the U.S., respectively, according to UNICEF reports.
Through health, water and sanitation projects, ChildFund is working to save children’s lives by increasing community knowledge about the prevention and treatment of common diseases.
Last week, the Ministry of Health in Timor-Leste organized a national conference on non-communicable diseases. ChildFund was one of the conference exhibitors, setting up an educational booth about our community health programs in Timor-Leste. Staff members provided antibacterial soap, health information and hand-washing advice to conference attendees and passersby, including university students, local children, academics and dignitaries.
The exhibit caught the attention of Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who spent 10 minutes at ChildFund’s booth, demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques with ChildFund Timor-Leste staff.
Hosted by the Ministry of Health, ChildFund Timor-Leste, Church World Service and the World Health Organization, the conference, held in the capital city of Dili, sought to improve collaboration and strategic planning between government and NGOs in the health sector.
“People who are poor or who live in underserved communities have less access to medical care and good nutrition,” said Dr. Nelson Martins, Timor-Leste Health Minister. “They face greater environmental health hazards and are harder to reach through outreach and education efforts. So as we move forward, we understand that we must also address the social and economic factors that can put people at greater risk for chronic disease.”
Martins also visited the ChildFund booth, asking numerous questions about ChildFund Timor-Leste’s health projects in rural communities.
Throughout the conference, ChildFund staff engaged young people at the event, with competitions to test their hand-washing and fingernail-cutting techniques. In partnership with the Alola Foundation, ChildFund also ran a trivia quiz about nutrition and maternal health. Nearly 250 conference-goers participated in these fun and educational activities. Prizes included practical items like towels, nail cutters and T-shirts.
by Jose Felix, ChildFund Timor-Leste
“My goal is to become a leader of this nation,” says Benditu, 13, from Aileu, Timor-Leste. As an avid student in Year 6 at primary school, Benditu is lucky. His parents understand the importance of education – not only to Benditu’s future but also for the future of Timor-Leste. “My dad and mum want me to go to school. If I do not go to school, then they are angry with me,” says Benditu. “They also buy shoes, school books and clothes that I need for school.”
Raising awareness of the importance of education, particularly among parents, is a major challenge that ChildFund is helping address in Timor-Leste. Without personal experiences of the transformative power of education – in Aileu district, more than 50 percent of people have no formal education – many parents do not understand the opportunities that schooling can bring to their children. Instead of attending class, many children work alongside their parents to farm, fetch water and collect wood. Improving education in Timor-Leste must start with engaging parents to support their children’s education.
As a member of the Timor-Leste Coalition for Education, ChildFund Timor-Leste recently participated in Global Action Week. Awareness-raising events were held in Aileu and Ermera districts, drawing hundreds of students, teachers, parents and representatives from government, NGOs, the U.S. embassy and UNICEF. Speeches, marches and music were followed with question-and-answer sessions between local communities and education specialists.
The focus of this year’s Global Action Week was early childhood development (ECD). ChildFund Timor-Leste is currently supporting 80 ECD centers, some of which are home-based, across the country. A key focus of ChildFund Timor-Leste’s ECD program is to build the capacity of Parents and Teachers Associations so they can advocate and take pride in their community ECD centers. Alongside engaged parents and teachers, centers supported by ChildFund Timor-Leste are currently preparing more than 3,000 children for a successful future at school.
Events like Global Action Week are vital in influencing community perceptions of the importance of education. As 12-year-old Derina, a school student from Aileu, said, “We are all here at this event so that parents can influence us so that we all go to school. Parents should send their children to school because their children will be the future of this country.”
Reporting by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Around the world, little brothers regard their older siblings with a mixture of awe and admiration. In a small town in Timor-Leste, 6-year-old Silvino looks up to his 25-year-old brother, Marcolino, but for a special reason.
A few months ago, Marcolino became a ChildFund Community Health Volunteer, and his new role is to share important health information with his community. He has learned about malaria and dengue prevention, hygiene and the importance of encouraging parents to use the local health clinic.
His training is just one part of a comprehensive maternal and child health project funded by ChildFund Australia and the Australian Agency for International Development. ChildFund is working with local communities and government to enhance health care and knowledge in order to improve the health of children and mothers. In addition to 410 Community Health Volunteers, ChildFund has trained 84 professional health workers and 36 midwives, distributed 6,000 mosquito nets to families and provided vital health training to 312 schoolchildren and more than 21,000 community members.
“What I like most [about being a volunteer] is that I can learn new ideas,” he says. “Before, I didn’t have knowledge about health, but today I do. And I can share it with others who need it.”
Marcolino and Silvino live with their parents and two sisters, Umbelina and Abita, on a small farm near a dry riverbed and a collapsed bridge. Last year, a flood destroyed their house and washed away precious topsoil. Marcolino’s father, Jose, could plant only enough to feed his family. Like others in the area, they simply cannot afford to deal with expensive and debilitating health problems.
So, when Silvino developed a fever, headache and persistent cough in February, Marcolino’s training proved essential. Recognizing that Silvino’s symptoms were potentially serious, Marcolino and his mother took the boy to the nearby government health clinic. With timely access to proper treatment, Silvino recovered quickly and is now back at school. Two mosquito nets from ChildFund are also helping the family to reduce their vulnerability to malaria.
“I worry about my siblings getting sick,” Marcolino says. “It makes me sad.”
His concern is understandable. In 1999, when Marcolino was 12, the conflict preceding Timor-Leste’s independence destroyed many homes and most of the country’s public infrastructure. Without access to health care or basic services, four of Marcolino’s siblings died from respiratory illnesses that year. The youngest was a month old.
“I feel responsible for the children around here and their health,” he says. “They are the same as my brother.”
To date, Marcolino has spoken to 15 local families about how they can prevent common diseases, and he has plans to walk up into the nearby mountains to share the information with another 30 families. Marcolino has also referred about 20 people to the health clinic after identifying symptoms of malaria and dengue. “It’s not too hard to convince people to go to the clinic once they understand [the significance of their symptoms],” he says.
As an older brother, Marcolino looks out for his younger siblings. As a Community Health Volunteer, he’s now helping protect them — and all of the children in the area — from preventable diseases. And it’s obvious that Silvino is pretty impressed with that.
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.”
by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we visit the Uai-Bua school, which is benefitting from strong community support.
The school grounds of Uai-Bua primary school in the village of Ossu, Viqueque, is a shining example of what a community can achieve when it works together toward a common goal.
The Uai-Bua school shouldered a heavy responsibility in the local area – the school had just 11 classrooms to teach approximately 1,000 children, ages 6 to 14. However, the cramped conditions inside the rooms were not the only problem. The holes in the roofs and walls often exposed children to wind and rain during classes.
Concerned by the problem, the Uai-Bua Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) met with Jose, ChildFund Timor-Leste’s education project officer, to discuss how they could work together to improve the school’s facilities. The PTA had been waiting many years of country unrest for an opportunity to work in partnership to develop the school. “It’s been 10 years since independence, and nothing has happened until now,” said Acácio Monteiro, the school’s director.
ChildFund Timor-Leste first held a training workshop with the PTA to help them identify and prioritize the current needs of the school and write a proposal for funding aid. The training is part of a long-term strategy to build the community’s capacity to successfully advocate on its own behalf.
The PTA of Uai-Bua then submitted a proposal to ChildFund Timor-Leste outlining the renovations required for one school building, including two classrooms. The proposal was approved with funding from UNICEF, and the community also donated about 50 percent of the labor and local materials needed to help the funding go further
After a month of hard work by parents, teachers and the community, the building had new walls, a new ceiling and a sealed roof. The schoolchildren shared their parents’ excitement about the renovated classrooms. Rafaela, 10, confessed that learning for her and her classmates had been difficult in the past, especially when the roof leaked. She added, “I am looking for knowledge!” She is happy that her classmates will be able to learn safely in the renovated building.
Now that the PTA has newfound skills in proposal writing and confidence in their ability to make a contribution, they’re already discussing what’s next for Uai-Bua school.
Americans take their bathrooms for granted, but for 2.6 billion people worldwide, a toilet is a luxury. To raise awareness of global sanitation needs, Nov. 19 is designated World Toilet Day.
“Children often suffer the most because of limited access to clean water and poor sanitation,” said Sarah Bouchie, ChildFund’s vice president for program development. “Poor sanitary conditions lead to more disease and less food, and precious family income must be spent on purchasing water or dealing with the effects of illness.”
Responding to water and sanitation issues is a primary component of ChildFund’s work to help children around the world.
Beginning in 2008, ChildFund helped Nam Phong, a village of 3,600 in Vietnam, construct latrines and water supply systems. Community members were also taught to adopt hygienic practices, which helped clean up streams and roads in the community.
In Timor-Leste, where 70 percent of people have no access to sanitary bathrooms, ChildFund built latrines, a community bathroom and provided hygiene training to children and families. In Afghanistan, we are partnering with UNICEF to teach children about sanitation and hand washing. ChildFund Afghanistan has assisted some 6,000 former IDPs (internally displaced people), refugees and vulnerable families lacking quality housing and bathrooms. We’ve provided building materials and a small economic incentive to help families construct a two-room house and latrine.
An initiative to install latrines in elementary schools in Mexico provides students privacy and protection, increasing their likelihood of staying in school. Girls in particular are less likely to attend school if there are no bathrooms.
“Improved sanitation in schools, better access to clean water and knowledge about how to prevent waterborne disease helps ensure the health and development of the world’s children,” Bouchie said.
Celebrate World Toilet Day and help flush out poverty.
by Marilou Suplido, ChildFund Timor-Leste Program Manager, with reporting by program team members
Timor-Leste has one of the highest birth rates in the world, with almost 70 percent of the population under age 25. Educating Timor’s children is essential to ensuring this young country has a brighter future.
ChildFund Timor-Leste is working with its local partners to help fill the gaps where government is not yet able to keep up with the demands of the growing number of children going to school.
Two primary schools in the remote southwest Covalima District are benefitting from ChildFund’s support through the Community Partner Organisation Graca.
Lontale Primary School is just one example of an under-resourced school struggling to meet the needs of schoolchildren. It has 336 students in grades 1 to 6, and just three classrooms. In fact, the school has so many enrolled students it has divided the students into two groups, with older and younger students attending class at different times of day.
ChildFund has assisted the school by providing desks and chairs, and we’ve built an office for the teachers. “There are many primary schools in the 13 districts of the country,” explains Jose Gusmao, school director, “and although we are always asking the government for support, the resources are limited. Hence, the support from ChildFund has meant that our schoolchildren do not have to sit on the floor during their class.”
In nearby Sukabilaran Primary School, until earlier this year, all 120 students were sitting on the floor. Ignacio,12, is a student in the fifth class. He says that he and his friends “felt sad” when they had to sit on the ground. Writing and studying were difficult.
His schoolmate, Florentina, 13, nods in agreement. “I am very happy that ChildFund provided chairs and desks for our school,” she says. Florentina explains that she has a long walk to school, but is always prepared to make the trip because she loves school. She wants to continue studying so that when she grows up she can become a teacher.
ChildFund sees improving school facilities as an entry point in working together with the government and the community to ensure that children can be educated in a safe and child-friendly environment. Our goal is to help students finish school and achieve better educational outcomes.
By providing schools with basic services such as desks, chairs, books and teaching materials, as well as water and sanitation, ChildFund envisions that more children like Florentina will continue to enjoy attending school. Better educated and more confident children are needed for Timor’s future development.
by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
One of the best parts of my job at ChildFund is working with colleagues in our Africa, Americas and Asia offices. This year we’ve been collaborating on activities to capture the voices of children. By listening carefully, we are hearing remarkable things that will help shape our programs in the future.
In Timor Leste, we asked children who live in a village near Liquica to share their thoughts on various subjects. Youth leaders scattered questions on the floor, and then walked the children around, recording their responses:
I want to build a school with enough chairs and desks.
I need pens and books to study for the future.
I am happy when I can play.
I like stories which let me understand more about our history.
— Amandio, 13
I like to play at school.
I want to become a teacher in the future.
I want to study hard to help bring our country forward.
The last time I laughed was when a friend told me a joke.
I don’t like the poor condition of my school.
I would like to become a teacher to teach people to become smart.
If I could meet with the Prime Minister, I would ask for clean water, as now I have to carry water far to my house.
When I grow up and become smart, I would like to help develop my village.
In past years I was unhappy, because I hadn’t started school yet.
Good stories are the ones that make me laugh.
At home, my dad tells me to do lots of work, and I worry about that.
I think a lot about studying for my future.
I like hearing funny stories.
My favorite place is the football field.
A place I don’t like is narrow rooms in the house.
I would like to become a policeman.
I don’t like to see people who are sick.
I think a lot about school, because I want to be educated.
I like telling funny stories.
When I was 5, I was unhappy because I couldn’t go to school.
If I could, I would like to build a new school and a new road in my village.
I like playing football in front of the school because we don’t have a proper field.
I like to tell ghost stories.
I think a lot about studying.
I would like to become a doctor, to give treatment to sick people.
Even in the midst of extreme poverty and exclusion, children are hopeful and earnest about finding a way forward. That’s the reason for ChildFund’s 100 Days of Yes campaign — so many children await the sponsorship support they need to “grow up and become smart.” Won’t you say “yes?”
This year’s photographic theme, “Inclusive Foundations for Early Childhood: Working Together to Reach the Unreached,” sought to spotlight good care practices within the region.
Photographer Nic Dunlop captured the winning images of children thriving in ChildFund’s Leopa Day Care Center in Timor Leste and a community health center in West Jakarta, Indonesia.
The photos will be featured on the ARNEC website and widely distributed via ARNEC’s 2011 calendar.
Here’s a sneak peek at ChildFund’s winning photos.