In 2002, Timor-Leste became the first new country of the 21st century in Southeast Asia. Home to more than 1.1 million people, Timor-Leste’s population is young and vulnerable. More than 51 percent of Timorese are under 18 years old, and the country’s low human development indicators underscore the high infant and maternal mortality rates as well as adult illiteracy.
Completion rates in primary and secondary education are low, and youth unemployment is high. Malnutrition is widespread — 45 percent of children under age 5 are underweight. Widespread poverty and a persisting legacy of violence are the post-independence challenges of the country.
ChildFund has served children in Timor-Leste since 1990.
Timor-Leste has one of the highest infant mortality rates in Southeast Asia, at 44 per 1,000 live births. Causes include preventable diseases like diarrhea, malaria and respiratory ailments. With poor nutrition and low numbers of skilled attendants present at births, one in every 35 Timorese women is at risk of maternal death.
ChildFund Timor-Leste safeguards the health of infants and mothers through maternal and child health initiatives including facilitating the immunization of infants and pregnant mothers and training community volunteers to help their communities access village-level health services. These volunteers also provide information on the prevention of malaria, diarrhea and respiratory diseases and are trained to identify symptoms in seriously ill children and facilitate referral to professional health care when needed. These initiatives are pursued in coordination with the Ministry of Health.
In Timor-Leste, 37 percent of the rural population have no access to safe drinking water, and 52 percent have no access to toilets. ChildFund Timor-Leste provides rural communities with water and sanitation facilities and education on their use and maintenance. In a village in Maliana district, ChildFund Timor-Leste constructed three water wells, thereby saving villagers valuable time normally spent carrying water from a distant river.
“Before the water was far, but now we are happy because it is close,” says 12-year-old Elias.
In addition, laundry and washing areas and sanitation facilities were built, and parents and children were trained in diarrhea prevention and hygiene practices.
Support for Learning
The majority of Timor-Leste’s population lives in remote, rural villages. Many children are forced to drop out of school because of the long distances they have to walk for school. In many cases, boys are supported to continue their schooling whereas girls are not. A World Bank study in 2006 found that eight out of 10 children in grade five had not achieved minimum levels of learning.
Pre-school education is critical in the educational development of children because it prepares them for formal schooling. In Timor-Leste, ChildFund provides early childhood development support for children aged 3 to 5 in centers equipped with learning materials and basic facilities. Trained teachers conduct age-appropriate activities that enable the young children to learn, play and interact with their peers, laying groundwork for later academic achievement.
ChildFund Timor-Leste also works with primary schools and Parent Teacher Associations not only to improve school facilities and family literacy but also to encourage the involvement of the parents and the community in the education of their children.
The director of a primary school in Covalima district says, “There are many schools in Timor’s 13 districts, and although we always ask the government for support, government resources are limited. The support that we receive from ChildFund means that our students don’t have to sit on the floor to study.”