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. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

In Timor-Leste’s remote communities, parents and children learn together

Olympia Carvalho had always wanted to send her eldest children to preschool, but the classes were too far and too expensive. Now, thanks to a new alternative preschool and parenting education programme in her rural community, both she and her children will get a chance to learn.
Olympia Carvalho with her three children at her house in the remote village of Matahoi.
She has been attending parenting education classes
while her children attend the alternative preschool in their community.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/gmdasilva
MATAHOI, Timor-Leste, 23 May 2016 – At the stroke of 8 a.m., a ringing bell echoes through the remote village of Matahoi in Timor-Leste’s Viqueque municipality. As the sound fades, Olympia Carvalho, a 26-year-old mother of three, makes her way to the village centre in this small agricultural community, which is located 170 kilometres east of the country’s capital, Dili.


The bell indicates the start of another parenting education session for Ms. Carvalho, but it also signals a new beginning for her children. This is because while she attends the parenting session, her two eldest children, Atanazio, 5, and Izaias, 3, attend the newly-established alternative preschool.


A community supported alternative
The alternative preschool programme is an informal learning session for children aged 3 to 5 who have no access to formal preschool. It follows the Ministry of Education’s curriculum and is facilitated by trained community volunteers.


“I am very pleased to have the alternative preschool here,” Ms. Carvalho says. “Now my kids can go to a school in their own community. I always wanted my eldest son to attend preschool when he turned 3, but I could not afford to send him, and it is located very far, around two hours walk from our home.”


The preschool class is held three times a week, and it has been running in the community for about three months. Ms. Carvalho says that both she and her children have already learned a lot. “I make sure that they attend regularly, and most of the time I also accompany them. I've learned many good ideas from the teacher, such as learning through playing, which I apply with my children at home,” she says.


Teresa Fernandes is a housewife and a trained community volunteer who is giving her time in the interest of the children in her village. With UNICEF support, Ms. Fernandes received training on facilitation skills, classroom management and lesson planning using the new school curriculum. Each volunteer also receives essential learning materials.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Aida’s story: “I like to learn. I want to know more for my future”

Aida Mesquita, 14, leaves for school. Aida is in the fifth grade
at Sarlala Basic Education Filial (satellite) School,
a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly School in Aileu Municipality.
 Timor-Leste. @UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/klynch
When she was just five years old, Aida Mesquita followed her older siblings to their local school and started the first grade. “It was really noisy,” she remembers, “there were two grades in a single classroom and it was crowded, so it was hard to concentrate.” The teacher stood in front of the rows of desks and talked. “If we didn’t pay attention, the teachers would punish us. It made me scared to be at school.”

At the end of the year, Aida dropped out. Like more than 70 per cent of students in Timor-Leste who complete grade one, she could not read a single word.

Two years later, with a push from the teachers and her parents, Aida, then eight years old, returned to school to repeat the first grade. She found that things had changed. UNICEF had supported the Ministry of Education to train her teachers in the ‘Eskola Foun’, or Child Friendly Schools approach.

“The method of teaching was different,” she says, “and every grade had its own classroom so it was easier to learn. There were also more activities and the teachers explained things to us in a way that I could understand.”

Born in 2002, the same year her country was officially recognized as Asia’s newest nation, Aida’s story is all too common. Even today, only 54 per cent of students in Timor-Leste enter grade one at the correct age—some enter too young, and some too old. A few, like Aida, do both. And while drop out rates have decreased significantly, repetition rates, especially in the early grades, are still very high: almost 30 per cent of students in grade one do repeat the first year of school.