Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Toilets for change in Timor-Leste

Inspired by Mapeop village’s efforts to build toilets,
pupils at a local school helped build their own safe, clean toilet.
© UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon Nazer
“I was shocked!” laughs Jorge de Jesus, a young father of two who introduced himself as “Rambo”. “When the guy took some hair covered in “tee” [poop] and put it in a bottle of water, he asked if we wanted to drink it! People got angry - of course not!”

That was the moment members of Mapeop, a small remote village high in hills of Timor-Leste in Bobonaro province, started to understand that having a toilet was far more important than they ever imagined. The hair symbolized the legs of a fly, and was used to show villagers how feaces can be carried around into their water and food.

“With the facilitator, we started by mapping everything out together on the floor,” said the village head, Sergio da Costa Magelhaens. “We marked our homes, our water sources, and where we defecated… we then started to understand how dangerous it was to go in the open.”

Jorge stands outside his recently constructed pit latrine.
A simple toilet like this can help keep children and adults alike healthy, and safe from disease.
© UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon Nazer
UNICEF is training and supporting local NGOs to start a ‘community led total sanitation’ approach. Communities are taken through exercises to see how and where they defecate in their villages, and are helped to understand the risks this places on their health. 

The process, known as ‘triggering’, inspires communities into action. The disgust and shock Jorge felt are just some of the emotions elicited during the exercises and communities are compelled to build simple toilets using local materials and help their villages become open defecation free, forever.

Once the 56 families in Mapeop village saw with their own eyes how much tee was spread around their village, and its impacts, they were eager to act.

“Everyone reacted well to the exercise,” says Jorge. “Afterwards, we all dug holes right away and within two weeks most of us had toilets.”

Throughout Timor-Leste, thousands of people, mainly in rural areas, defecate in the open.  When waste is left in the open, it can contaminate water and food supplies, making people sick.

Children are particularly vulnerable and open defecation is directly linked to malnutrition and stunting – a severe problem in Timor-Leste affecting one in two children.

After only a few months, Jorge has already seen how much healthier his children are. “Before we had the toilet toilet they’ve been very healthy – they look fresh. I’ve already seen the difference the children often had diarrheoa,” he said, proudly showing his toilet. “They had bad health. Since I built the.”

For health and dignity
Christorio Noronha is unable to walk and moves around the village using his hands, gripping onto two blocks to protect them from the rough ground.  Despite finding mobility difficult, he still took it upon himself to build a toilet straight away.

Christorio together with his family outside his recently build toilet.
Despite being unable to use his legs, he was determined to build the latrine
and keep his family safe from disease. © UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon Nazer
“Despite my condition I still wanted to build a toilet to keep me and my family safe,” said Christorio, sitting next to the entrance of his small home. “Otherwise it gets in your stomach through your food, your water and it makes you dirty and sick.”

He began by digging a 2.2 metre deep hole in the ground.  “My wife had  to arrange  pulling  me out once I was done, it was so deep,” said Christorio, surrounded by his wife and two children. “I then cut wood form the forest around us to build the structure. At the end I needed help from my son-in-law to put the roof on because I can’t reach.”

Not only was it a matter of health for him and his family, it was a matter of dignity as well. “I’m an old man. Young people would stare at me, sometimes laughing, when I went into the bush. It affected my dignity.”

After a moment of contemplation he proudly looked at his new toilet. “I built this myself. It’s my job to look after my family.”

Community spirit
The triggering process is all about empowering communities to take action themselves. The community spirit here in Mapeop was so strong that even pupils in the nearby school decided to take action, with the support of their teachers.

Pupils outside their new toilet
© UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon Nazer
“We built the toilet at school ourselves because we didn’t want to go in the bush,” said 13 year old Ida de Jesus Balo. “This toilet is better. It’s safer than the bush.”

Isaues, 11, nodded in agreement. “When you go to this toilet no one can see you but in the bush they can. And there are no animals in the toilet – outside there are.”

The students had to work hard but after a few days they too had a functioning toilet for their school, with handwashing facilities.

So far, over 61,000 people from villages throughout Timor-Leste have been reached with UNICEF’s support, but many more are still in need of support.
Communities are educated on why open defecation is so dangerous, and shown how to construct safe toilets. At around $15 per person it’s a low cost, and sustainable way of ensuring communities are empowered with the knowledge to keep themselves healthy. 

For Mapeop village and others that have been ‘triggered’, it’ll bring long-term benefits for generations to come. “People have become aware that health is important for life and that toilets will help stop diseases,” said the village head Sergio. “We all have our own toilets now and we’ll all continue to use them.”

With the joining of hands by community members including children, parents, local authorities and partner organisations, real change has come about in Mapeop village, and for many  others communities in the nearby future too.

By Simon Nazer, UNICEF EAPRO

Friday, November 13, 2015

Building future leaders through the Youth Parliament Programme

Timor-Leste Youth Parliamentarians are voting for an idea
during the special occasion of the First Annual Sitting of the newly elected
Youth Parliamentarians to build consensus among the members on youth programmes.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/Aemguterres
“We have no proper road to commute from my village Malelat, it took four hours by truck to reach to the point from where I took a boat to cross the river. Altogether, it was a 13-hour journey from my village to the capital, Dili,” Maria Fatima Sila,  a 14- year old youth parliamentarian shared her experience while talking about her journey to attend a skill development training in Dili organised by the Secretariat of State for Youth and Sports (SYSS) supported by UNICEF.

“I am happy that I could make it. I would like to draw the political leaders’ attention to problems we are facing in our everyday life.  In my community, many children are out of school, and parents are not much aware of the benefits of education and the health of their children,” Maria continues.

“We would like to act as a bridge to bring local issues to the national level. Through various training and exposure visits supported by UNICEF, we have prepared ourselves, and now we are able to confidently communicate with policy makers, local leaders and the community,” says Ambrocio P. Colo (15), a representative of Bobocasee village of Oecusse district. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hope for the future: Investing in girls’ education in Timor-Leste

UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon Nazer  
Delfina and Esperança, left to right, now have a quality education thanks
to a UNICEF supported child-friendly school
In Lauana Groto, a dry, dusty village high in the remote hills of Timor-Leste, families struggle day-to-day to get by. For adolescents like Delfina and Esperança, education offers hope of a better future.
A new child friendly school, constructed and equipped with UNICEF’s support, is offering children and adolescents a safe, healthy and protective environment with the tools and facilities to learn better.
Delfina and Esperança, both 13, are seizing the opportunity to learn with both hands.
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon Nazer                   
UNICEF constructed a child friendly school and provided materials and teacher training
in Lauana Groto village, Timor-Leste

Monday, October 5, 2015

Collective efforts to stop open defecation in villages

Afonso Salsinha Trindade (56) and his family happy with their newly built latrine. 
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Rbhusal
Afonso Salsinha Trindade (56) lives in the mountainous village in Matata suco of Ermera sub-district with his family. The village is one of the sucos (village) of Ermera recently declared as open defecation free. 
“My family has been using a pit latrine since 2003, yet I never felt comfortable as majority of my neighbors were still practicing open defecation. Now things have changed and suco Matata is open defecation free,” says Afonso.

“The pit latrine gets full every four to five years and I have to dig a new pit in a new location though it does not cost any money. Digging a pit was the most difficult part, but my husband with the help of my sons managed to do it in two days,” says Silvia, wife of Afonso.

Working together
In 2009, UNICEF provided support to Matata suco to build latrines for 195 out of 215 households with subsidized materials. “According to a latrine utilization survey 2013 by the Ministry of Health over 70 per cent of latrines were in usable condition, but merely 18 per cent families’ reported that they are always using the latrines. The District Public Health Officer of Ermera was surprised by this resulted and proposed UNICEF to support the Suco Matata to improve the latrine utilization rate,” says Rodolfo Pereira, WASH Officer of UNICEF who was involve in implementation of the project since the beginning.

“The issue was more related to behavior and practice, than the supply. In consultation with the Suco Chief, we organized meetings with the community members explaining how the fecal materials contaminated water and food and was causing health problems. The meeting lead to form a Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS) group,” Rodolfo continues.

Initiating change
“After discussions we realized that we were eating our shit by defecating in the bush and not washing our hands with soap after using the toilet”, says Gil Lobato Pereira, Suco Leader. “In the past, many families did not use the latrine due to a lack of water for flushing the toilet, and we used to go to the toilet in the bush. Things have started changing after the meeting held in last year.  Within a period of three months 20 households that did not have a latrine built their latrine and started using them. The biggest achievement was in hand washing with soap as all 215 households built or designated a place for hand washing and water and soap was available for use.”
Community members are sharing their experiences among the audiences in a public meeting.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Rbhusal
“By declaring our suco an open defecation free area, I and our four aldeia xefes (chief of a designated area) made a commitment to continually motivate people for keeping our villages open defecation free forever,” confirms Gil, the Suco Chief who played an active role in promoting CLTS activities.

“ There was a time when people used to feel offended about using word ‘Tee’(faeces), discussing faeco-oral route and ingesting faeces. With CLTS intervention, people are now discussing these challenges more openly,” says Gilberto Rodrigues, the Director of NGO HIM, implementing partner of UNICEF for CLTS intervention in Ermera.

Sharing responsibilities
Several families have installed a rainwater collection tank to use the water for toilets and hand washing. In addition, communities have also initiated a village law (Tarabandu) in their suco that any family building permanent house must include a permanent toilet in their yard. If not, the suco will impose a penalty on the family,” says proudly the xefe suco Pereira.
Two of the five sub-districts -Railaco and Ermera Villa- in the Ermera district
declared as open defecation free.  ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Rbhusal
“Communities should collectively take the lead to make their villages open defecation free. Even the families that have and use latrines are not safe if their neighbors are practicing open defecation as the pigs, dogs and flies have no boundaries and they contaminate food and water with Tee (faeces in local language),” says Joni Alves, the District Public Health Officer while addressing the meeting with the villagers. 

“CLTS is not about building latrines but about stopping open defecation and washing hands with soap at critical times so that we don’t ingest our won Tee,’” reiterates Joni while interacting with community members.

Changing practice
“Children of Matata have immensely benefited from CLTS programme. Now they have toilet and hand washing facilities in their school but they also enjoy same and comforts in their homes. Since the beginning of the CLTS activity in our sub-district in 2012, the intestinal diseases among children have gone down, fewer number of children come to clinic for diarrhoea complains,” says Antonio de Deus, the chief of Community Health Centre of Railaco Sub-district, Ermera.
“In our family everybody uses the toilet and wash their hands with soap after using toilet”,
says Bendizela Fransisca, a 10-year old 4th grade student. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Rbhusal
“In our family everybody uses the toilet and wash their hands with soap after using toilet,” says Bendizela Fransisca, a 10-year old 4th grade student. “In school, teachers teach us on the importance of hand washing with soap after using the toilet, and at home my mother is very particular about it. We have a locally made hand washing stand near the toilet and it is very convenient for me to wash hands,” confirms Bendizela on her way out from the toilet.

In partnership with government and local NGO, UNICEF provides support to the Ermera district in scaling up CLTS. Out of 52 sucos, 30 are now open defecation free. “It is a great achievement that two of the five sub-districts -Railaco and Ermera Villa- in the Ermera district are verified as open defecation free. So we should organize a sub-district ODF ceremony as well. By celebrating this achievement we can motivate other sub-districts to accelerate the CLTS process in their areas,” says Joni with passion.

By Ramesh Bhusal, Chief WASH Section

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Helping peers in learning at school

Epifania (11) is one of many students in her school
benefitting from the Child Friend Schools (CFS) approach,
known as “Eskola Foun” in local language. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Sgmartins
Like today, every afternoon Epifania (11), works together with her  peers and classmates to complete their homework at her house in Aiteas Suco (village) of Manatuto district which is 67 kilometre east of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste.

With care and patience, Epifania leads and guides her peers and classmates to complete their weekly tasks and assignments. Epifania Gomes, is a 6th grade student of the Ensinio Basico Filial Rentau School in Manatuto district of Timor-Leste.