Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Schools: Bringing communities together in Timor-Leste

Students of Horaiquic Basic Education School, Ainaro Municipality.
@UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/cmcintosh
“The toilets are broken. We can use them but they are not in good condition and we have to carry water to fill the tank,” says 11-year-old Mangauda dos Neis da Suria, describing the condition of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities at her school, Horaiquic Basic Education School in Ainaro Municipality (district).

“We have toilets but no water comes to our school and it is difficult to get water. We have to travel a long distance to collect water and bring it to school,” says Adaesizo (10), a student at Biluli Basic Education Filial School in Ermera Municipality.

Horaiquic Basic Education School and Biluli Basic Education Filial School are like many schools in Timor-Leste where water sanitation and hygiene facilities are in a poor condition, often not functioning and some without a running water connection. Nationwide, 40 per cent of basic education schools covering Grades 1-9 lack access to an improved water source; 70 per cent have toilets, although a significant percentage of these facilities (30 per cent) are partially functioning or not functioning at all according to the Ministry of Education’s latest data (EMIS 2015).

“We have no water or soap,” says Fransisco, a student at Biluli Basic Education Filial School. Limited availability of water and soap in schools also means that children and teachers do not always practice hand washing with soap before eating and after using toilets during school hours.
Community consultation on the importance of maintaining school water and sanitation facilities.
@UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/emartins

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Building a brighter future for school children in remote villages of Timor-Leste

Students of Urahou 1 Escola Basica Filial School are celebrating construction
of their new school building.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/agomes
“The school is about to collapse. The roof is broken and the floor is cracked. We have a toilet but some children still go to the bushes,” says Gabriel Soares dos Santos, a teacher at the Urahou 1 Escola Basica Filial School in Ermera Municipality.

The current condition of the school is not uncommon in the remote villages of Timor-Leste where road access is limited during the rainy season that can last up to nine months in a year. Landslides are also a major problem preventing travel to these villages sometimes for weeks, with dirt roads far too muddy and slippery for vehicles.

Like several other schools in Timor-Leste, Urahou 1 Escola Basica Filial School is overcrowded, poorly maintained and lacks adequate facilities. The school caters for primary education Grades 1 to 6 students. There are currently 531 students, 261 of whom are girls and 270 are boys managed by nine teachers. The average student per classroom is 80. The school has six classrooms, three of which are in very poor condition. It has four toilet cabins but only two are in use and the school has no water supply. This makes existing facilities very difficult for students to use.

Monday, June 5, 2017

International Children’s Day: The first ever National Action Plan for Children launched in Timor-Leste

Festivity marks the celebration of International Children’s Day 2017.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/ahelin
“I am a child of Timor-Leste, and I am the future,” sang the children, a chorus that echoed throughout the gardens of the Presidential Palace in Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital. This marked the beginning of celebrations for International Children’s Day and the launch of the first ever National Action Plan for Children (2016-2020). The Action Plan resonates with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), offering strategies and concrete targets for improving the lives of all children and assisting them in reaching their full potential.

More than 300 participants, most of them young pre-school children between the ages of three and five, travelled from across Timor-Leste to celebrate this significant milestone, the launching of the National Action Plan for Children jointly by the President and the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, a first in the young nation’s history.

With the Presidential gardens full of balloons and flowers, a pre-school marching band played and children ran around waving Timorese flags. The energy and excitement was contagious, with all present celebrating the progress made and the promise of an even brighter future. The way forward was emotionally captured as the children sang, “We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day…...”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Joana dos Santos − a committed Mother Support Group member reaching out to mothers

Joana is providing counselling to a mother on the importance of breastfeeding.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/dmonemnasi
It is around mid-day as Joana Carvalho dos Santos (48) reaches Imaculada da Silva’s (30) house. Joana warmly greets her, inviting her into her small house. She could not attend the Mother’s Support Group meeting earlier today as her baby is too little. Imaculada lives with her family in suco (village) Mota Ulun, Liquica.

“This is my third baby. I breastfeed him, but I’m not sure about how often and when I should stop breastfeeding,” Imaculada says to Joana.

Joana physically examines the mother and her baby and provides the necessary guidance. “I didn’t know the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and that my son needs it until he is six months old,” says Imaculada. “I didn’t exclusively breastfeed my two older children. I wish I knew this information before,” Imaculada continues regretfully.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A School Group Hand-Washing Facility: Helping students to change habits

“We know that dirty hands can make us sick and worms could get in our stomachs
 if we eat food without washing our hands,” says Talia de Oliveira, (12) student of
Bairopite Primary School. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/ahelin
“I wash my hands as soon as I come to school. We know that dirty hands can make us sick and worms could get in our stomachs if we eat food without washing our hands,” says Talia de Oliveira (12), while she was washing her hands with soap before the meal break at Bairopite Primary School. She explains, “As I may have been holding something dirty I am keen to use soap to wash my hands before eating.”

Celestino da Costa Novo (12), standing almost a head shorter than Talia, was also washing his hands. With his spiky hair and his cheeky grin, he declares that the school’s hand-washing facility “helps us make sure we have good health and that’s very good for our future!”

Washing hands with soap is now common practice among the students of the Bairopite Primary School, situated in the area of Bairopite in Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital. Bairopite is one of the more recently settled areas of Dili; many of the buildings are small, concrete, slightly thrown-together in appearance with tin rooves and little in the way of gardens. Educating the area’s many children, the school, in contrast, is well constructed, surrounded by a wall with a brightly coloured cartoon mural on the outside.

With ten classrooms and toilets supplied with water through a functioning pump/tank system, the school is catering to the needs of more than 750 students. According to the EMIS report 2016 of Timor-Leste's Ministry of Education, only 28 per cent of the country’s schools has daily use of running water and just 40 per cent of schools have toilets. The school is certainly beating these statistics.

The Group Hand-Washing Facility makes things better
The school had the minimal infrastructure for running water but often faced challenges in meeting the students’ needs. In 2015, the school - jointly with Vila Verde Primary School - received a group hand-washing facility from the Ministry of Education as part of the basic hygiene programme supported by UNICEF. These two schools were selected to have installed a low cost but effective hand-washing facility.

Clean hands mean good health. Celcia Soares Baros, 6 years,
rubs her hands thoroughly with soap at Escola Vila Verde in Dili.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/ahelin
The mechanism is simple but effective. The facility is designed for 48 children to wash their hands with soap at a time. The metal structure has a long trough to catch and drain away the grey water and above a fixed parallel pipe − from which pieces of soap hang at regular intervals − drips water at a steady rate, when the water is turned on. The introduction of the new hand-washing device was beneficial for the students as well as for the teachers.

“The school used to use water buckets that had to be carried to the classrooms for the students to wash their hands. It took a lot of time and it was hard work!” says Guilhermina de Jesus, who has taught at the school since 2000. “Teachers were all very relieved when the hand-washing facility was installed. It means we don’t have to throw away all the dirty water – that was the biggest problem with using buckets,” Guilhermina continues. “The facility works very well and it is much easier to make sure the students all have clean hands to eat their food.”

Although the school day is divided into three teaching shifts based on class levels (7−10.30 am; 10.30 am −2 pm; 2−5.30 pm), that is still many pairs of hands that need to be clean at one time!

Bringing change by raising awareness
Students like Talia have learned basic hygiene practices as part of hygiene promotion taught at school. Talia demonstrates her learning as she recounts, “I guide my younger nieces and nephews at home to wash their hands after using the toilet”. This is a sign that the hand-washing message is going through to some students’ families.

With close to half of Timor-Leste’s population under the age of 18, Talia’s message reinforcement is helping the children who will eventually follow her to school to gain some of the basics in hygiene. Hopefully, through improved hygiene, children will get sick less often and so miss less school, a factor that can help reduce the current primary school repetition rate of 15 percent (Source: EMIS 2015).

Handwashing does not only keep germs at bay –
it's also a fun for the students of Bairopite Primary School in Dili.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/ahelin
“Once the students hear the signal to announce that class is over for lunch break, without being told, they line up on the veranda to wash their hands,” says Guilhermina. “The students are very enthusiastic about washing their hands. If we teachers are not there to monitor, the hand washing becomes quite lively!”

As Talia and her friends line up to go into class, hands clean and minds ready to learn, it was clear that this group of learners already has an advantage over the rest of their half of the population; they definitely understood the basics of good hygiene. And that, for World Water Day on 22 March, is an important step and contribution towards meeting Timor-Leste’s commitments to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on Quality Education, and 6 on Availability and Sustainable Management of Water and Sanitation for all.

By, Emma Coupland, UNICEF Consultant