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. 

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.