Wednesday, June 20, 2018

UNICEF CAFÉ kick-off highlighting the role of fathers in Timor-Leste
                                                                                                                       -Sophie Raynor, Consultant 

“I’m a bit shy to share my experiences,” Francez Suni tells the crowd, grinning nervously before a packed room at UNICEF Timor-Leste’s Father’s Day celebration, a morning coffee discussion themed super dads share and care. Speaking on a panel with four other fathers, Francez grinned as he searched for his next words.
“I’m a dad, yes, but am I a super dad? I’m just trying to do my best.”
The Information Director of GMN, a private media organisation, Francez is no stranger. But he hesitates briefly as he recalls his mother’s death when he was four, and his experience of being raised only by his father and how it affects his parenting today. He pauses for a moment, eyes to his feet, to collect himself.

Fathers posed for a photo session with Valerie Taton, UNICEF Representative, after the UNICEF CAFÉ: Super Dads Share and Care, organised to highlight fathers’ roles in child-rearing and caring. Photo: UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/bsoares
“In the morning, I’m a laundry worker,” he continues, voice steady. “In the afternoon, I’m a driver. I clean their clothes and shoes and take them to school.” The smiling faces of Francez’s two children beam at the crowd from a family photo projected behind him. An attentive crowd applauds as Francez takes his seat, praising the hardworking father for his candour, and to recognise and celebrate the key role he plays in his children’s lives.

   Learning from each other
Super dads share and care is the first of a planned series of the UNICEF CAFÉ organised to highlight fathers’ roles in child-rearing and caring.  Facilitated by celebrity performer Anito Matos, fathers shared their experiences of parenthood, opening up a rarely-discussed topic in a traditionally patriarchal society that often relegates father’s child-rearing contribution to mere disciplinarian.
 Francez joined on a fathers’ panel discussion by Cesar da Costa Lourdes, a Chef at restaurant L’ Aubergine; Gil da Costa Naldo Rei, the President of the national television and radio network RTTL; Peter Roberts, Australia’s Ambassador to Timor-Leste; and Silviano Lopes, Director, National Directorate for Statistics.
 The Ambassadors to Timor-Leste from New Zealand, United States, Portugal (a.i) among other diplomats were also in attendance – as was Gil’s wife, who returned his stories with an easy grin, hands clasped over a broad pregnant belly.
 “When I told my wife and children I’d been selected to share my experiences a super dad, I asked them if they believed me,” Gil quipped to the crowd, grinning. “They said they did! But I’m suspicious.”

Francez Sun joined on a fathers’ panel discussion by Caesar da Costa Lourdes, a Chef at restaurant L’ Aubergine; Gil da Costa Naldo Rei, the President of the national television and radio network RTTL; Peter Roberts, Australia’s Ambassador to Timor-Leste; and Silviano Lopes, Director, National Directorate for Statistics. Photo: UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/bsoares

He said he learned how to be a father from watching his own, who took great care to never hit the children, and jokes that he keeps an eye on his neighbour’s parenting, to make sure he isn’t being out-done.
 “I take my children to school, and people ask oh, where’s your wife?” he said. “I tell them she’s working, or at home. I may not be a super dad but I’m challenging myself to be a good one.”
 Following the fathers’ conversation, a short film highlighting a pioneering parenting programme, run jointly by UNICEF Timor-Leste and the Ministry of Social Solidarity was screened, offering the crowd a glimpse into the lives of rural fathers learning new knowledge about positive parenting, including discipline, nutrition, early stimulation, hygiene and education for their children. UNICEF also screened an animated film on early childhood development, highlighting the different roles parents can play at each stage of a child’s life, and emphasising the importance of proper nutrition, play and love.

 Fathers doing their best
 “When you have a children you think of a super hero,” Ambassador Peter told the crowd, before a projected image of his own two children, smiling with him under cheery sunhats. Pointing behind him, the Ambassador continued, “It’s important that fathers are involved in their children’s lives,” he said. “Doing small, everyday things, like playing soccer, or reading. It’s my belief that a father’s acts can be more important to a child than a mother’s.”
Among other panellists, Peter Roberts, Australia’s Ambassador to Timor-Leste, shared his account with the audiences in the UNICEF CAFÉ: Super Dads Share and Care. Photo: UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/bsoares
In the open discussion participants reiterated the importance of father’s role in modelling respectful behaviours, and showing children how to treat their mothers and family members with respect. Domestic violence is a significant problem in Timor-Leste, so strong role models are important.
Participants reiterates the importance role of fathers in the during open discussion at the UNICEF Café: Super Dads Share and Care. Photo: UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/bsoares
Children's voices were also heard, with a video screened showing children sharing their opinions of their fathers and the activities they like doing.
 In her remarks, UNICEF Timor-Leste Country Representative Valerie Taton shared candid memories of her own childhood. “I thank my own father,” she told the crowd. “Without him I wouldn’t be standing here today. I remember reading with him, going to the museum, and exciting my curiosity.”
 As the discussion wound down and Valerie called the event closed, listeners idled in the room, taking a second cup of coffee and chatting quietly together. Snatches of conversation drifted through; men talking about their children, people talking about their fathers; their families, long after the microphones were muted.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Parenting education brings fathers to the front in Timor-Leste

Ester Pereira, 5 years, loves playing with father Simiao Pereira.
Ester has borrowed the teddy bears from the school,
 as she doesn’t have any toys of her own.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/ahelin
RAILACO, TIMOR-LESTE – Watching 32-year-old Simiao Pereira gently helping his four-year-old daughter with her drawing on the family’s airy veranda late on a Friday afternoon, you’d be hard-pressed to believe the young father would ever be capable of raising a hand to the girl in anger.

But growing up in a traditionally patriarchal Timor-Leste, where men are taught to discipline their children with force, Simiao admits that he used to hit his four children.

“In the past, we were sometimes hitting our children,” Simiao, a farmer, says, “but now we know to just use words.”

Simiao is one of around 70 parents from Railaco, a semi-rural village on the fringes of Timor-Leste’s mountainous coffee-growing region, who are participating in a UNICEF-supported parenting education programme. The programme is working with parents and providing information on issues like nutrition, education, discipline, child protection and child-rearing.

A key component of the programme is recruiting a roughly even split of men and women to the programme’s information sessions, and to encourage men to see the larger role they could play in their families.

Monday, May 28, 2018

“I didn’t know what it was”: New approaches to menstruation unlock opportunities for girls in rural Timor-Leste

Cidalia de Araujo Soares, right, is comfortable speaking about her experience of her first period, which is uncommon in Timor-Leste. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/ahelin
In remote Timor-Leste many schools remain unconnected to safe water sources. For some girls, this presents a problem: how do you manage your period hygienically without skipping class? Find out how UNICEF is supporting some of Timor-Leste’s most vulnerable girls with safe, secure facilities for managing menstrual hygiene now.

Getting your first period can be an embarrassing, uncomfortable and downright painful experience. And that goes double when you don’t know what’s happening to you. For girls in Timor-Leste, that’s all too often their reality.

“I was really scared, the first time,” says 15-year-old Cidalia de Araujo Soares, a bubbly grade nine student at the local Catholic school in the rural town of Aileu, which sits in the mountainous centre of Timor-Leste. “I went to my mother and asked how to prevent it.”

Cidalia’s mother showed her how to use sanitary pads, and told her she wasn’t allowed to eat cucumber, or play with boys anymore. Cidalia accepted the curious dietary advice, but pressed her mother on why she was no longer able to play with her friends.

“Mom said, when you have your period and get close to boys, a lot of blood will come,” Cidalia recalls.

In predominately Catholic Timor-Leste, information about reproduction can be difficult to find, and families in isolated farming communities have limited opportunities to learn. While periods are seen as normal, and monthly bleeding isn’t culturally taboo, limited facilities mean managing periods can be difficult. If a girl’s period comes at school, she’ll often return home to manage it, missing the rest of the day’s classes.

Now, UNICEF is working with the country’s Ministry of Education to ensure schools are safe, secure and supportive environments for the thousands of girls in Timor-Leste who get periods.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A conducive environment for learning in Timor-Leste

Leonia Mendonca, a 10-year old Grade 6 student at Horaiquic Basic Education School
shows her drawing to the class. Leonia is one of the 170 students now enjoying
 a new school building and new school furniture with the support of UNICEF.
 ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/bsoares
The primary school in Horaiquic village in the foothills of Timor-Leste’s mountainous Ainaro municipality looks, on the outside, like most other schools in the country.

The same eye-catching yellow-and-mint-painted walls; the same grinning kids hanging out in the corridors. But in many schools in Timor-Leste you would expect to see long rows of desks inside each classroom, facing dusty chalkboards and bordering grimy, cracked-up windows. You’d see upwards of 60 students in a class. You’d see those kids wilting in the oppressive tropical heat and wonder whether it’s safe to try and open one of those windows.

But in Horaiquic Basic Education School, things are different.

Chatty students gather in small groups of three or four at clustered tables, with neat new chairs in freshly painted classrooms. Coloured pencils produce vivid artworks, which will later adorn walls and clean, clear windows. Smiling teachers stand back while students take turns talking in front of the class.

With support from UNICEF and its partners, Horaiquic Basic Education School will become a shining example of education in Timor-Leste – which makes it hard to believe that the school nearly crumpled just over a year ago.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Timor-Leste declared the first open defecation-free municipality

Ermera Municipality declared as Open Defecation Free after following a rigorous process.  Luis Lobato Vice Minister of Health of Timor Leste handed over the declaration to the Municipality President José Martinho dos Santos Soares.  ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/ahelin
In the courtyard of her home a young mother cradles her baby, carefully angling her arms to protect the infant from the already-hot morning sun. Born in late December last year, the child is one of the newest residents of Railaco, a semi-rural town in the foothills of Timor-Leste’s coffee-growing heartland of Ermera municipality.

He’ll likely never realise it, but the child will live his entire life in a district free from open defecation – a significant public health issue in Timor-Leste’s line of fire, and perhaps the single greatest threat to his health and safety.

Ermera was declared the first municipality (district) in Timor-Leste to be free from open defecation, a practise where people go to fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water and other open spaces to defecate, instead of using a toilet. About one in three people in rural Timor-Leste continue to practise open defecation, which is a dangerous, dirty and often embarrassing experience. Its elimination is a UNICEF global priority.