By Anne Scott,
Vice President of Global Programs
Timor-Leste’s independence – won through hardship and conflict, and only recently recognized within this decade – is taking shape. Stability slowly emerges out of crisis as traditional ways of life stand strong amidst burnt out buildings and minimal infrastructure. Simple household compounds built of palm leaves and forest branches endure, as stucco and cement buildings, built by successive visiting powers, erode gradually. Pigs, chickens, cattle and ponies graze on the grounds of deserted military and police outposts.
In the central district of Bobonaro, we are driving into the “redlands,” a description owing to the unfertile red soil and the red wood of the eucalyptus trees, amongst the few kinds of trees that grow here. It is a hot, dry and dusty plain – an unyielding landscape, surrounded by a ring of mountains, also dry in this season, regardless of altitude. The river bed is completely exposed to pebbles and rock.
Supplying food and water for families in this area is difficult, always, and especially so in this dry season. Electricity has yet to reach here, as even light in the nearest town center comes from generators, and only at night time.
And yet, against all odds in this remote rural area, I visit an early childhood development center – built, equipped and staffed thanks to ChildFund – where sponsored and enrolled children aged 3-5 take their turn to recite poems they have written, or, following the new government curriculum, sing songs of hope for this second youngest country in the world.
I inaugurate a new water pipe, funded by the Australian Aid Agency and installed by ChildFund and its local partner Hamutuk, which means “together” in Tetum, the local language, in a community where 40 children are sponsored. The pipe saves the children – usually girls – from having to walk two miles each way, twice a day, to gather water. This leaves them with extra energy to concentrate on their studies. And their parents are using the water to grow nutritious vegetables, otherwise sold at high prices in the town center some 10 miles away, a trip usually made by foot or infrequent motorbike.
Young and old alike have clean water to drink and wash, sparing them from a host of water-born infections, for which there is no medical care readily available. Everybody, each in their own way, relishes the water now flowing from the village tap.
On the way home, in a coastal community over the mountains from the plain, we visit a house, newly built of sturdy cement and rattan, thanks to a generous Gifts of Hope and Love catalog donor. We receive the gratitude of the mother of six children, two of whom are sponsored. She can now proudly accommodate her children.
Despite it all, traditions are strong and continue to give strength. The women of the village insist to dress me in the traditional Timorese costume. In doing so, I feel further acceptance of the relationship between ChildFund and the community. While children throw locally gathered flower petals over me, this strikes me as an important connection.
I’ve been to a lot of countries – 48 and counting. But in only a few, including Timor-Leste, is daily survival so critical. If you are a sponsor of or a donor to a child in Timor-Leste, you are truly a special person. Your support is paving the way for the children’s future, and for the future of this young nation. We need more like you.
I have also seen that the ChildFund team realizes and appreciates your generosity, and is working hard to make your gift make a difference to children and youth in Timor-Leste.