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.