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

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 constructed a child friendly school and provided materials and teacher training in Lauana Groto village, Timor-Leste
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon NazerUNICEF constructed a child friendly school and provided materials and teacher training in Lauana Groto village, Timor-Leste

UNICEF has so far helped build 59 child friendly schools and is supporting another 62 in Timor-Leste, all with learning materials and teacher training. Schools like this are part of the Timor-Leste Government’s ‘Eskola Foun’ initiative, supported by UNICEF, and this school was funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government (DFAT).

However, many children in Timor-Leste are not receiving a quality education. Nearly one in four youths aged 15-24 in rural areas are illiterate.

Two years ago, this school in Lauana Groto was a much different place for children and adolescents like Delfina and Esperança.

Delfina, 13, tops her class in most subjects.
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon NazerDelfina, 13, is top of her class

“Before, the school was really bad,” says Delfina. “The building was falling apart. There weren’t enough chairs and the rooms were really crowded. They also flooded when it rained.”

The new learning materials and teaching methods also contribute to a better learning environment for Delfina. “Now I enjoy it,” she says, grinning shyly. “I like learning.”

Many schools in Timor-Leste are still in a poor condition, resulting in poor learning achievements and many children having to repeat years.

At home, Delfina has to help look after her sick mother. After school she has to clean and cook.
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon NazerAt home, Delfina has to help look after her sick mother. After school she has to clean and cook

Like many families in Timor-Leste, Delfina’s survives day to day on a tight budget.

Her father has passed away and her sick mother is left with little means to help her family. “I want to send all my children to school but I’m worried how I’ll continue to support them to go,” says her mother Orlandina, who has six children.

“It’s difficult, we have so little money to pay for their uniforms and notepads.”

Back from school, Delfina prepares lunch for her family
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon NazerBack from school, Delfina prepares lunch for her family

Delfina has to spend a lot of her free time supporting her family.

“She is my last daughter – she always cooks for me and the family because I am sick,” says her mother sadly. “She has to look after me. In the morning before school she gets water from the well, then she prepares breakfast… When she gets back she makes lunch, washes clothes and then makes dinner.”

“I also cut the grass around the coffee trees and help pick coffee during the crop season,” Delfina says. “I have a little bit of time to spend with friends.”

Delfina reciting in class
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon NazerDelfina reciting in class

For Delfina, school is a place where she can really shine.

“I like going to school,” she says proudly. “I like mathematics, natural sciences, Tetum [national language] and religious studies. I always get good grades in school – I’m number one in my class.”

And she has high hopes for her future: “I want to be a teacher when I’m older.”

Esperança outside her home with her family
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon NazerEsperança, far right, outside her home with her family

Esperança’s father, Mariano, doesn’t have much but he wants to make sure all his children have a good education and is doing his best to help them thrive.

“Esperança’s mother passed away and I look after her and her brothers and sisters,” says Mariano inside their modest home, with only two rooms for he and his five children. “They’re my priority. I sell coffee. If any of them asks for money for shoes, clothes, or books, I try my best to afford them.”

Mariano sees education as an important way to help Esperança, and the youngest country in Asia, prosper in the future. “Timor-Leste is independent now and my children should take the opportunity to learn and develop.”

Esperança  studying in class
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon NazerEsperança studying in class

Esperança thinks the new school building is helping her learn better. “I like school because I can learn many things and be smart,” says Esperança with a quiet giggle.

Like Delfina, Esperança – the word for ‘hope’ in Portuguese – also wants to be a teacher. Right now, she couldn’t be happier with her school: “We really love it here.”

Esperança enjoys the group work
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon NazerEsperança enjoys the group work

UNICEF also supports teacher training to help children get the most out of their education.

Esperança has quickly seen the difference: “I like the way we are taught now,” she says. “We do a lot of group work so we not only learn from the teacher but we learn from each other as well.”

“If the teacher gives us a task we have to work together as a group and then present it to the class,” continues Esperança, clearly savouring the new learning environment. “Working alone was more difficult and we learned less before. I like working like this now.”

UNICEF hopes to support more child friendly school throughout Timor-Leste
UNICEF EAPRO/2015/Simon NazerUNICEF hopes to support more child friendly school throughout Timor-Leste

UNICEF is continuing to work with the Timor-Leste Government to help more children and adolescents like Delfina and Esperança with child friendly schools – but thousands of Timorese children and adolescents are still unable to access a quality education.

Donate now to help ensure more young people like Delfina and Esperança have a chance to access a better education, and a better future.

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