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A Community’s Vision in Timor-Leste

Girls in front of bulletin board used in community consultation
These children were part of ChildFund's community consultation process in their village.

In a village called Sana-Nain, at the end of a remote dirt road in Timor-Leste’s Manatuto district, ChildFund recently spent five days listening to children and young people talk about their lives and experiences of poverty.

Sana-Nain is nestled high in the mountains, accessible only by a wide riverbed that becomes impassable after heavy rain. When anyone from the community has produce to sell or errands to run, they must walk miles down to the dry riverbed, across it and up to the nearest road. Sana-Nain’s remoteness means that basic services — like electricity and running water — are just now becoming available to the community.

As groundwork before beginning programs in the village, ChildFund Timor-Leste and its community partner organization, Moris Foun (Tetun for “new life”), recently conducted a series of group exercises with children, youth and parents of infants in Sana-Nain. The exercises are designed to create a comfortable environment where children feel free to share what makes them sad, angry, scared or worried. Participants are split into groups by age and gender so they feel comfortable sharing their personal experiences.

By Friday morning, the results of the activities were tangible: Sana-Nain’s open-air village hall was draped with risk maps of the community and covered with colorful bits of paper. And the community’s investment in the process was also evident; even after four long days of community consultations, the children and their families were already there at 9 a.m., waiting to start the final day’s work.

As the responses to each exercise were collated and sorted, common issues started to emerge — for example, the need for vaccinations, improved school facilities and opportunities for employment. The children also identified domestic violence and quality of education as their particular concerns about the community. After sharing a meal together, the facilitators and community bid farewell — but only temporarily. ChildFund Timor-Leste will now use the community’s responses to plan its project approach in Sana-Nain.

Young man, seated, attaching paper to a bulletin board
A youth facilitator compiles responses from children and family members.

The community consultation is part of ChildFund’s approach to creating programs. This foundational step ensures that ChildFund Timor-Leste and community members truly listen and respond to children’s ideas and opinions about poverty, the problems they face, the ways they cope and their images of the future, and that we build their concerns into all of our efforts in their community. The process also helps children and youth build the skills they will need to lead change in their communities.

The five-day process in Sana-Nain was one of a series of three community consultations in Manatuto, where ChildFund is already at work in more than a dozen villages. The results will be the basis for creating an Area Strategic Plan for Manatuto, which will guide ChildFund Timor-Leste’s work in the district through June 2015.

During the week, Sana-Nain’s children, youth and parents wrote a vision statement: “Our village, Sana-Nain, wants a future with a primary and junior high school with complete facilities, a health center, good roads, sufficient food, complete sanitation, electricity and good relationships with all institutions that can support our children at school. With this, our village Sana-Nain can live in peace.”

Over the coming months and years, ChildFund Timor-Leste, Moris Foun and the community of Sana-Nain will work together to make the children’s vision for peace a reality.

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