By Aydelfe M. Salvadora and Dirce Sarmento, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Highly nutritious food is often unavailable in Timor-Leste. Many children are malnourished because they don’t have a proper mix of vegetables and protein, but a ChildFund home-gardening program, begun in 2012, is helping improve nutrition and provide needed income for families.
Irene, the eldest daughter of Rosalia and Felipe, started a garden in the backyard of her parents’ small farming compound located in the sub-district of Tilomar. Like others in this community, Irene’s family depends on farming for their livelihood, yet their earnings are meager and uneven.
Irene, who is married with a child of her own, recognized the opportunity for growing nutritious food and helping her parents achieve more steady income. She invited her friends, Felicidade and Guillermhina, to join in the backyard garden project and also share in the benefits.
Before they started the garden, Irene and her two friends received training in farming techniques through Graca, ChildFund’s local partner, with funding from ChildFund Australia and AusAID’s Maternal and Child Health project. The women received tools and seeds for bok choy, kangkung (a type of spinach), eggplant and tomatoes.
Irene and her husband shuttle between her parents’ home and his home in another district, which makes it difficult for Irene to tend the approximately 300-square-foot garden all the time, so her mother, Rosalia, also helps the other two women.
Last year, the women harvested twice, generating income of US$110 that was shared among them. Irene and her friends now have money for family essentials and a bit left over to buy seeds for the next growing season.
With Irene’s help, her parents now earn $20 monthly from the combined harvests of the home garden and the farm. Sometimes, Rosalia and Felipe also sell chickens raised in their backyard. This income is augmented when bananas are available; the family cooks pisang goreng (banana fritters) and offers them for sale to neighbors.
Without the garden, notes Felipe, the family would not be able to afford extra household items. He and his wife can buy food items like rice, as well as shoes and clothes for their 3-year-old grandchild.
Reflecting on their first year of gardening, the friends noted that their main challenge was access to water. During the dry season, the women had to take a brief break from gardening, and even during the rainy season, they have to fetch additional water for their plants from the neighboring aldeia (village), which is approximately 2 kilometers away.
And, yet, the garden thrived. The division of labor is fair, Rosalia says, and the gardeners look forward to this year’s first growing cycle, which began this month and runs through March.
by Aloisio Assis and Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Rosita is no stranger to the difficulty of feeding a family. For more than 20 years, she has been farming a small plot of land, growing what vegetables and crops she can, to support her 10 children. A few months of each year, Rosita and her family experience the “hungry time,” when harvests are sparse. During this time, some families sell a pig or some chickens to buy enough rice to eat, while others struggle to make do.
“Sometimes we didn’t have enough food,” Rosita says. “Normally, the children would eat three times a day, but when we didn’t have enough food they had to eat less. Sometimes we didn’t have very nutritious food, but we just had to eat what we could find.”
Rosita has been farming for decades but just recently learned about new farming techniques that could help her feed her children throughout the year. In 2011, she joined a farmer’s group assisted through ChildFund Korea’s food security program. Since then, ChildFund Timor-Leste has worked closely with that group to facilitate training sessions on horticulture and coffee production and has provided farming tools.
For Rosita, the training sessions have already had an impact – she now sorts through her coffee harvest, dividing the beans in terms of quality. As a result, she can sell her high-quality coffee beans for a better price and increase her overall income.
Rosita is also now able to grow enough vegetables to feed her family and sell the extras. Twice a year, at the end of each harvest, she earns an estimated US$200 from selling her surplus crops. She uses the additional income to cover school costs for her children and other basic needs of her family. “With the money from vegetable harvests, I can buy uniforms, books, pens and bags,” she says.
Through the provision of seeds, vegetable cuttings and a new water tank, ChildFund Timor-Leste is also helping to establish a small aquaculture enterprise in Rosita’s community. Farmers are able to grow more, which increases farm productivity and enhances the nutritional value of families’ meals.
“During the hungry time from January to March, we usually just eat cassava, maize, jackfruit and bananas. We had to conserve foods so we’d have enough to eat at that time of year,” says Rosita. “The project is supporting us with seeds and cuttings to plant in our farm.”
After school, Rosita’s 9-year-old daughter Elia sometimes helps her mother by watering the vegetables. She says her favorite vegetable from her family’s farm is black mustard. If the farm continues to improve, Elia will have the opportunity to pursue an education, an accomplishment Rosita has experienced with only one of her children.
By Dirce Sarmento
It was her first midwife training session in more than 10 years, but Maria de Fatima Moniz made it clear she was up for the challenge. She seized a valuable opportunity this past June and participated in a two-week midwife training facilitated by ChildFund Timor-Leste and Instituto Nacional de Saude (National Institute of Health) in the Covalima district.
During her first week, Maria, 38, learned the “55 Steps” — guidelines used by midwives to ensure the safe delivery of newborns and appropriate care for pregnant women. The second week of training, based in Dili’s National Hospital, gave the group of 17 midwives the opportunity to use their practical skills while under close supervision.
“During this training, I felt very fortunate to be able to learn new knowledge about the 55 steps and safe deliveries,” Maria says.
With more than 15 years of experience caring for mothers and newborns, Maria will use the information she learned to improve the delivery process she practices in her community. She is the only midwife for five sucos (villages) in Covalima — a community of approximately 7,500 people — and works at the Tilomar clinic. Tilomar has no running water, so she has to ask families to bring their own to use during and after delivery.
“The problem we have now in our community is that we don’t have any materials for delivery, like baby napkins, and no sterile delivery set,” Maria says. Despite these challenges, Maria has successfully delivered countless babies at the clinic. She hopes that conditions will improve.
As a mother of four children, Maria understands how important it is to support pregnant women at each stage of their delivery. “After this training, I hope what I learned will help local women have clean and safe deliveries and that [maternal and infant] mortality in Timor-Leste will be reduced.” Since she began working at the clinic in 2000, she says, eight women have been taken to Suai hospital for caesareans, and two babies have died.
In Maudemo suco, where Tilomar clinic is located, 48.7 percent of births from 2005 to 2010 were assisted by a skilled health provider. Comparing this to Timor-Leste’s countrywide average of 33.5 percent highlights how Maria’s hard work is making a real difference to women and children in her community.
With new skills and support through ChildFund Timor-Leste’s project, Improving Health Outcomes for Children in Covalima District, Maria can improve the level of care for pregnant women and newborns in Tilomar. “I am grateful for ChildFund helping us in Covalima. I hope we can improve the future of this cooperation, because we still confront problems implementing the safe delivery,” says Maria. “I hope next year ChildFund can support us to give us refresher training on safe motherhood and supervision.”
By Belchior Goncalves and Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
In many ways, Timor-Leste is a young country – just 10 years since the restoration of its independence, more than 60 percent of the population is under age 25 (2010 Census). As more young people leave school and look for work each year, the majority find that employment opportunities are few and far between. In the rural district of Bobonaro, about 56 percent of the people do not have formal employment (2010 Census). Many young people work on their family’s subsistence farms or admit that they “do nothing.”
With the support of ChildFund Timor-Leste, one man is taking action on what he sees as an opportunity, rather than a problem. “There are many youth I see who could grow, develop and support themselves,” says Yohanes, a 59-year-old carpenter. An experienced trainer, Yohanes has partnered with ChildFund Timor-Leste’s community-based organization in Bobonaro to provide young people with the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to learn a trade and start their own business.
ChildFund Timor-Leste identified five unemployed young people in Bobonaro district who had limited education but displayed the determination to work for a brighter future. Yohanes is working alongside these five apprentices, showing them how to make quality chairs, desks, doors and windows. For five days a week, the center is a hive of activity as Yohanes and his apprentices try to keep up with local demand for their well-made products. After the apprentices complete the 12-month program, ChildFund Timor-Leste provides each one with carpentry tools so they can use their newfound skills to start a small business.
Natalino, a promising apprentice, was forced to leave primary school after just one year because his parents could no longer support him. “There are lots of youth in the village, but they don’t go to school. They will end up the same as I was before, just farming,” Natalino says.
Natalino is in no doubt of how important the support of ChildFund Timor-Leste and Yohanes is to his future: “If I stay here for one year, I will leave as a carpenter. It will change my life.”
Watch a video of the apprentices at work.
By Aydelfe M. Salvadora, ChildFund Timor-Leste
For nine years, the Parent Teacher Association for Eskola Basiko Liaro sought assistance for its deteriorating school. But those requests went unanswered, says Raimundo de Carvalho, PTA president at the school, which is located in Suco Builale, Ossu, in the Timor-Leste district of Viqueque.
The school is surrounded by hills, making the temperature cold even during the day, and it easily penetrates inside the bamboo-walled classrooms.
When ChildFund first visited Liaro School, we knew that urgent assistance was needed. The school had a poor infrastructure, lacked water and sanitation facilities and didn’t have the most basic classroom and learning materials.
Given the poor condition of the school and the long list of areas for improvement, ChildFund worked with the school community to identify its main priorities for improvement. Classroom rehabilitation was on the top of the list, as it would deliver significant benefits within a short timeframe.
With the participation of community members, schoolchildren, PTA members and the Suco and Aldeia local councils, ChildFund Timor-Leste worked with Liaro School to quickly develop a proposal to be considered for UNICEF’s Participatory School Rehabilitation project.
The proposal was accepted, with Liaro School becoming part of the Child Friendly Schools (CFS) approach promoted by UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. It is a distinct initiative that promotes and nurtures the inclusive involvement of parents, community members and children in education.
With approval, funding and technical assistance from UNICEF and ChildFund, construction commenced in the first week of November 2011. In less than two months, four new classrooms were constructed and ready for the beginning of school year in January.
Built with concrete walls and tin roofs, the classrooms are comfortable and secure from the elements. When asked how their new learning environment makes them feel, the school’s 150 students give an enthusiastic chorus of “kontente [happy].”They no longer fear water leaking from the roof and persistent cold through the bamboo walls. More importantly, they now have an environment conducive to learning that motivates them to study harder.
The PTA members and council chiefs say they’ve learned a lot about the importance of community participation and cooperation to benefit children. They also point to another benefit with lasting impact – not only do they have four new classrooms, but they now also have the skills to write more project proposals to gain additional funding for their community.
Courtesy of ChildFund Australia, a member of the Global ChildFund Alliance
A global education program called ChildFund Connect is promoting a sense of community and friendship among primary school children in Australia and their peers in developing countries.
Through a variety of multimedia tools, with a central website serving as a hub for communications and child-created content, the program facilitates cross-country exchanges and collaborative education projects to increase children’s understanding of the world.
One of those projects is Our Day, a film that documents a day in the life of children around the world. Using pocket video cameras, hundreds of children in Australia, Laos, Vietnam and Timor-Leste captured the detail and color of their day, providing incredible insights into their childhood experiences.
Filmmaker Clinton J. Isle took on the creative task of combining this footage to create Our Day. The film shows how daily life is very different, but, also, in many ways the same, in different parts of the world.
This project was supported by the Australian Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body and by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. ChildFund Connect is also partly funded by Australian Aid, managed by ChildFund Australia on behalf of AusAID.
Take a few minutes to enjoy this absorbing film.
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.