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.

Engaging Community and building a new school

Things are starting to change at the Urahou 1 Escola Basica Filial School. Thanks to the valuable contribution made by the UNICEF Korean National Committee, hundreds of students will no longer be faced with risks to their health, education and overall wellbeing Soon they will have a newly constructed school building with adequate water and sanitation facilities.
The traditional Village Chief António da Costa along with the Minister Antonio da Conceição and
Desiree Jongsma laid the first stone to symbolise a joint commitment to children’s education.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/bsoares
A traditional first stone-laying ceremony held in October 2016 attended by Antonio da Conceição, Minister of Social Affairs Coordinator and Minister of Education of Timor-Leste and Desiree M Jongsma, UNICEF Representative. They placed down a stone to symbolise a joint commitment to the construction of the new school building. The traditional Village Chief, who donated his land, also gave his blessing. “I offered part of my land to build a school because I want to contribute to the nation building. All I want is that our children go to school. I'll be very happy if I see children of Urahou village become one of the leaders of Timor-Leste in the future,” says António da Costa, the Village Chief of Manukati of Urahou village of Ermera Municipality.

The village response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive; bringing together students, teachers, parents and the community. “We are happy for the UNICEF supported new school building. Students will be able to study in a better environment,” says teacher, Joaquina Martins. The initiative has been able to raise awareness of the importance of parental engagement in their children’s education, as well as encourage parents’ and community cooperation with regards to the maintenance of school buildings and sanitation facilities. Belarmino de Jesus President of the schools Parents-Teachers Association says, “We are proud to have this new building, it will bring benefit to our children,” which reflects the views of many parents and teachers while recognizing the significance of this important work.

Laying the foundations for a brighter future

“We are thankful, the new school will have a library, toilets, water and also preschool for my siblings,” says Joanina Fatima Martins a Student of EBF No122 Urahou, Hatolia, Emera. Students like Joanina, are beginning to develop an understanding of the difference a new school building will have not only to their lives but also the positive implications for others around them. The new school building will include three classrooms, one teachers’ room, one library room and water sanitation facilities, eight cabins of toilet blocks -separate for boys and girls, and include menstrual hygiene facilities to support menstrual hygiene management. The toilets will also be accessible for children with disabilities, including hand washing facility.
Francisco Borges and his friends are eagerly waiting for their new school.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/agomes
“Currently we do not have a proper toilet. We go to the coffee plantation field. But in the new building we will have toilet and water. We are very happy,” says Francisco Borges a Student of EBF No221 Urahou, Hatolia, Emera. For students at the Urahou 1 Escola Basica Filial School, the construction of a new school building brings excitement and a newfound confidence. The provision of better quality early learning, basic education and water and sanitation facilities have had an encouraging impact on student’s outlooks. “I am happy for the new school with sanitation facilities, I feel more motivated to come to school and study,” says Agostino Soares, a grade five student of Urahou school of Ermera Municipality. By creating a more welcoming, friendly, safe environment, school children in remote villages will be able to thrive and attain better learning outcomes.

The new Basic Education school building and a Pre-school building with water and sanitation facilities will contribute to achieving the country’s national goals of an equitable, inclusive, quality education for all children.  Once completed it will mark an important move 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 Cecilia McIntosh, UNICEF Intern

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