Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Sergio returns to school with a big hope

Sergio da Silva, 19 (grade 9) is a leader at his school, the Escola Basica Central
in the town of Laclubar, Manatuto Municipality, Timor-Leste.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/klynch
When we last met Sergio da Silva in 2012, he was 16 and just completing the sixth grade. He didn’t like being so much older than the rest of the students in his class, but he wasn’t feeling shy about it. “This happened because when I was in the first grade I got sick and had to drop out,” he explained.

“The same thing happened the following year, and again the year after that. Finally, I finished the first grade on my fourth try. I might have dropped out except my parents kept making me to go back. They said if you want to have a bright future you need an education.”

Changing life
Sergio’s school, Dirik Hun Primary School in Laclubar sub-district in Manatutu which serves students in grades 1-6, had undergone a big change, becoming a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly School (CFS) the year before. Sergio explained the changes this had brought to his classroom, “Teachers gave us very little opportunity to talk before.

They were the only ones who talked—non-stop from morning to afternoon. We couldn’t express what we understood or ask questions if we didn’t understand. They just said ‘We know and you should listen to us.’ But after their training, my teachers have gotten better at teaching us.

They’ve put us into groups and now they give us instructions and we discuss different topics with our groups and report back to the class. Before I was so bored. I didn’t like school and I didn’t learn much. Now I have to think. I have to talk and respond. I have to lead discussions and argue issues. I am learning so much more, and I like coming to school.”

Sergio left Dirik Hun Primary School after grade six to attend the Central Basic School in Laclubar, a pre-secondary school (grade 7 to 9). As UNICEF’s ‘Eskola Foun’ or Child Friendly School (CFS) approach has not yet been introduced in pre-secondary schools in Timor-Leste, it was a return to the traditional teaching methods he had been so happy to leave behind.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Educating Young Children to Promote Social Change

Pai-Tino is teaching in the UNICEF-supported home-based alternative preschool.
He is running the center for over two years now. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/bsoares
As Martinho Soares (65) enters his classroom, his preschoolers lovingly greet him saying ‘Pai-Tino’. In the local language, Pai-Tino translates to Father-Tino, demonstrating the love and respect Soares receives from his students. The Preschool teacher’s infectious smile and youthful energy immediately lift the spirits of the room. As soon as he starts talking anyone can feel his passion for teaching and learning. The visibly joyful and compassionate teacher immediately makes a connection with everyone’s heart.


Lari, a remote village of Viqueque Municipality is around three hours’ drive from the town. Here, Soares is tirelessly working to constructively engage young children. “I used to see children of this community sitting idle and using bad language. Timorese people all over refer to our residents as Muturabu, which means tough people,” says Soares.


“We fought so hard to have our own country. Now, we have to do something good with the independence which we gained in 2002. Now we have to teach our children about peace,” Soares added.


“The Chefe Aldeia and I discussed this issue and thought of ways to change this. We decided to start an alternative preschool and teach young children how to be peaceful. When children grow up it is difficult to teach them love and peace, so we decided to teach young children,” Soares added.
In 2014, after extensively discussing Viqueque’s future with the community leaders, Soares decided to start classes for the village’s young children.


In the initial days Soares’ aim was simple. “I wanted to engage idle children, and reduce the extent of cursing and fighting among them,” he says. But he didn’t have enough resources and turned to the students of the national university, the University of Timor-Leste, to find ways to organize the children. With the University’s help, he gathered the attention of the villagers and mobilized parents to send their children to his preschool. The Chefe Aldeia offered the porch of his house as venue for the classes. Soares started teaching preschoolers three times a week.
Natalina with her 4-year old son Acacio. Acacio has been attending Pai-tino’s preschool for 6 months.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/angomez
A year later, in January 2016, Soares attended a UNICEF-supported teacher training programme in Viqueque district. He received training on teaching small children, classroom management, maintaining attendance records, and engaging parents. He was also provided with teaching and learning materials like reading books for kids, notebooks, wall decorations, etc.


Most importantly, he started to appreciate the concept of ‘learning through play’. In just six months, the preschool was transformed. Preschoolers in Soares’s class are now seen singing and dancing to amongst others their very favorite “chicken dance”. The then bare walls of the porch are now full of color and life. They are decorated with drawings, posters of alphabets and numbers.


Natalina Brito Fernandes, mother of a 4-year old Acacio, a student in Soares preschool happily expressed “Acacio loves coming to the preschool every day. He comes on all days, except when he’s sick. He sings the ‘eyes, nose’ song at home. He knows the alphabets too. I send him here to become bright and smart.”


Pai-Tino dedication has led also to his nomination as a facilitator of a parenting education programme by the villagers.


The parenting programme is implemented by the Ministry of Social Solidarity with UNICEF support to raise awareness among parents on young children’s needs and rights. Being a parenting programme facilitator, Pai-Tino provides parents with information and key messages on various topics including general parenting, early stimulation, alternative discipline methods, and danger signs for illnesses.


“Teaching in the preschool as well as facilitating the parenting programme is demanding but the trust my community members have shown in me keeps me going. I have not done this before but, the training and guidance help me to support parents,” he says.


Soares’s goals for the preschool have now grown. The new goals include reaching more children and moving from the home-based preschool into a more spacious community-based center. Parents and community members of Lari are now coming together to discuss ways to translate these goals into actions. With their children’s future as the focus, the villagers don’t seem “muturabu” anymore.

Monday, August 22, 2016

“Early Pregnancy and Marriage Snatched the Beauty of my Life”

Nina (not her real name)
Nina , a 17-year-old girl in Manatuto municipality, dropped out of school last year because she was pregnant. She stopped going to school until her baby was born. Life has changed a lot since then. She is now taking care of her one year old baby boy, while her 17-year old husband Rico is continuing his study in a Senior high School in Dili. “Early pregnancy and marriage snatched the beauty of my life,” said Nina.


Like many other young girls who become pregnant at a young age, getting married seemed to be the only way out for Nina to avoid the shame of early pregnancy.


Teresa (16), a former school girl from Manatuto, had a similar experience. When she was in grade 3 at Senior High School, she was forced to drop out of school because she was pregnant. Accompanied by her mother, Teresa shares her experiences with a shaky voice, “When I realised that I was pregnant, I was frustrated and thought to commit suicide. Now I just stay at home with my son who is five months old. My mother is always with me in every circumstance.”


Teresa met a 20 year old man who was from the capital Dili in a social gathering. “I used to go out with the man. After five months I found I was pregnant, my boyfriend disappeared as he came to know. Suddenly we couldn’t reach him, we didn’t know where he was, where his family is, and we don’t even know his full name,” said Teresa. “We tried to report to the police, but we don’t know where the man is now,” Teresa’s mother added.


"’My family is embarrassed by me but they always supported me during my pregnancy, until now,” Nina said. “As parents we are stressed, but we have to support her, and we will support her to continue her study,” said Teresa’s mother.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Training equipped doctors to save babies’ lives

Dr.Nazario Barreto dos Santos examining the health of a baby in the hospital.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/adocarmo
It was midday, when Simplicio Pereira and Nazaria de Jesus rushed to the hospital with their newborn baby as she was suffering from breathing complications. Both parents were nervous and worried. The way to the hospital from Maucatar sub-district seemed too long to the parents though it was only 10 minutes’ drive by motorbike. The new born baby’s lips had turned dark blue, and the baby was struggling to breathe on her mother’s lap. 

Dr. Nazario Barreto dos Santos (34), is a general practitioner, who was on duty, immediately ensured that the new born girl got emergency treatment as the parents reached the hospital. “The baby was suffering from hypothermia and asphyxia. Without wasting anytime, I performed standard operational procedures that I learnt from my recent Essential Newborn Care and Managing Newborn Problems training, and the baby’s life was saved,” said Dr. Nazario.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Teaching students, touching many lives to flourish

Teacher Felismina Espirito Santos (35) of Besilau School, Aileu Municipality.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/negoulart
It is a brisk morning as Felismina Espirito Santos, age 35, walks with several of her cheerful students through coffee plantation fields heading to Besilau School in Aileu. Not only today, this is part of Felismina’s everyday life, except holidays and weekends. She enjoys this walk, as it helps to build relations with student outside class.


She has been in the teaching profession since 2001. Reflecting on her years of experiences, she says, “In my early years of teaching here at Besilau School, it was not an easy job. The school building was ruined by militia gangs after the referendum took place in 1999.


The school had no other teachers at the time.  However I took the initiative to join a movement of young volunteers to help my country develop.  I became a volunteer school teacher so I could help to fill the demand for teachers in my community. I did not know how to be a teacher and did not have training.