Tuesday, November 21, 2017

“Do you have a plan?” Staff’s children take over their parents’ roles in UNICEF Timor-Leste Office on World Children’s Day

Marli (9) is acting as Deputy Representative of UNICEF Timor-Leste
on the conference call about presentations and working style
as part of the ‘children take over’ event on World’s Children’s Day, 20 November 2017 in Dili.
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/bsoares
The Deputy Representative of UNICEF’s Timor-Leste office is concentrating on the multi-country conference call, she’s leading on presentations and working styles. She opens her mouth to answer a question about the working archetype of academic Albert Einstein, but before she can answer, her eight-year-old brother interrupts.

“He’s emotional, definitely,” he says, confidently.

“No way, he’s Albert Einstein,” she returns. Then, to the screen. “He’s a thinker.”

“I agree,” replies a voice from a tiny box in the computer.

The deputy adjusts her lime-green cap and nods into the screen.

“How old are you, Marli?” the voice asks mildly. 

“Ten,” the Deputy replies.

“Slowly, slowly,” Do you have a plan?
Brixton (8), is having interview with Jogilvo da Silva Barreto (16)
who acts as UNICEF Timor-Leste Representative
 during the celebration of the ‘children take over’ event in Dili.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/bsoares
 
Marli and her brother, Brixton, are two of UNICEF Timor-Leste’s Deputy Representative Scott Whoolery’s children. They’ve ousted him from his desk this afternoon for World Children’s Day celebrations, which include a kids’ takeover of the Dili office.

As Marli continues the conference call, Brixton rounds the corner into the office usually occupied by UNICEF Timor-Leste’s Representative Valérie Taton. Her desk is today taken by 16-year-old Jogilvo da Silva Barreto, who’s mid-way through an interview with the Representative about violence prevention and youth mobilisation.

“A lot of my friends are in martial arts gangs,” Jogilvo begins. In Timor-Leste, martial arts are often used as a front for violent street gangs, whose bored youth members tend to rock-throwing and street violence.

“We need to find a way to show that they can be better, develop their skills,” he says in clear, fast English. “Show them how to use martial arts. We can be better than we are now. Teenagers should be standing up and finding a way to develop a good society. Finding a way to create a better Timor-Leste.”

Beside the desk his mother is grinning and shooting photos.

“Slowly, slowly,” Jogilvo says with a smile. “We can work in many ways with young people. Through sports, art and culture. The future of Timor-Leste depends on what the young people do,”
His mother covers her smile with her hands.

“He always wanted to know more about what I do at UNICEF, but he was shy this morning and didn’t want to come,” Jogilvo’s mother, Gizela Moniz da Silva, says. She’s UNICEF’s national Child Protection Officer working in the Child Protection section, and has two other sons and a daughter in the audience, intently listening to their older brother’s speech. “I just told him this was his chance.”

Of course, he took it.

Brixton, the eight-year-old Deputy Representative, finally gets a minute to talk with his superior. Both boys wear neatly pressed short-sleeved collared shirts, slicked-back hairstyles, and sit tall in their chairs on either side of representative Valérie’s desk.

“Do you have a plan?” Jogilvo asks. “A small one, to help out.”

“Not yet,” says Huxley, glancing into the notebook he’s carried from his father’s office.

“But soon?”

“Yes.”


Hearts, flowers, cartons on Computer screen

Raina Fatima Quintao dos Santos (7)
takes over the position as UNICEF Timor-Leste Nutrition Programme Chief
on the ‘children take over’ event in Dili. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/bsoares
 
Children have been running wild through UNICEF’s halls all afternoon. Computer screens are decorated with haphazard digital illustrations of hearts and flowers, cartons of fruit juice sit open on a bench, Nutrition Programme Chief Adam Bailes has just emerged from a stern disciplinary meeting with his 7-year-old boss, Raina Fatima Quintao dos Santos, and Dominggus Monemnasi’s, 12-year old daughter Brilha João de Deus Belo Monemnasi, who took over his father’s job, was capturing it all in her camera. Deputy representative Marli Whoolery is still categorising leaders on the conference call,“Dad, who’s Richard Branson?,” and her three-year old brother Huxley has just discovered and upended an overnight bag his father had forgotten to take back home.
Brilha João de Deus Belo Monemnasi (12) is acting as UNICEF Timor-Leste’s photographer
replacing her father’s role during the celebration of the ‘children take over’ event in Dili.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/bsoares
 
“This is a dream come true for them,” says Huxley and Marli’s mother, Magdelena Whoolery, with an easy laugh. “They know a little about what their father does, babies and education and nutrition and helping people, but they don’t know the little details.”

“This is the day for children, and I‘m amazed to see the way they took over the office,” says Valérie Taton with a wide smile on her face.

Did Marli know she’d be filling on the conference call?

“Nope,” says Scott, cheerily. “The other people on the call knew, but she just came in and said right, I’ll take over.” Is she still there? “Yep!”

Representative Jogilvo da Silva Barreto closes the day as a crowd gathers in the conference room.

“Thank you all for coming,” he says in two languages. “How did you all feel being here?”

Slowly, shyly, small voices pipe up, describing feeling happy, feeling tired, contemplating ways of giving back to communities after a stint in the decision-maker’s chair. Jogilvo nods and smiles, repeating paraphrased answers back and translating easily between languages.

He concludes the day, thanks everyone again, and people start filing out. Before a flickering laptop, 10-year-old Marli Whoolery remains steady in her father’s chair.

By Sophie Raynor, UNICEF Timor-Leste Consultant

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