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Last time you were here, you were looking to help vulnerable children and families. Your support can save and change lives.

Since the eruption of political unrest in April last year, an estimated quarter of a million people in East Timor – mainly women and children – have been forced to flee their homes. While many have returned home, some families remain in displaced person camps around the capital of Dili.

In support, ChildFund Australia’s affiliate organisation in East Timor has been operating Child Centred Spaces in the camps, aimed at giving children some sense of order and a safe haven during the turmoil.

These spaces give children increased chances of survival and protection from abuse, as well as opportunities for education and recreation. ChildFund in East Timor has also provided clean and accessible water and systems for the safe disposal of human waste within the camps.

Separately, ChildFund in East Timor launched a new Early Childhood Development Program in 2006. The program focuses on giving teachers vocational training on child learning methodologies, as well as giving mothers and other caregivers information on home-based care for young children. Nutrition education is also made available to those caring for children, including mothers and nurses.

This knowledge will be passed from generation to generation as more caregivers understand the importance of nutrition and education on children’s development. Caregivers are now more able to get help if their child is not developing – they know that early intervention is needed.

These manuals have been developed and translated into Tetum. These quality training materials will be a sustainable legacy of this program, being available for future teachers, nurses and mothers. Community based organisations will continue to support mothers groups to improve home-based care.

More than 3,000 children have benefited from the program through the training and support of 83 Early Childhood Development Teachers.

Two years ago, a company which I worked for sponsored a child from ChildFund Australia. After seeing what a few dollars could do to the lives of a struggling community, and the joy our company’s sponsor child had from writing and sending letters, I felt compelled to sign up for my own sponsorship. I chose a child from Vietnam – a country which I had visited a few years earlier and had an immediate affinity for.

My sponsored child’s name is Viet. Viet’s family, like much of his community, are subsistence farmers cultivating rice and root crops. Relying on uncertain weather, farming conditions and regularly unclean water to survive. Viet attends a poorly equipped school kilometres from home and lives in basic mudbrick and bamboo home. A tough life many of us could not comprehend.

After a few years working in Sydney, I decided to take off overseas, studying and travelling. My around the world ticket in hand, I departed home excited by the journey ahead – part of which included visiting friends living in Asia and South East Asia. I could not pass up the opportunity to visit Viet and his family while in the area.

After nine months abroad with plenty of great travel experiences in hand, I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam. I was met by the ChildFund interpreter Duomg and driver at my hostel and we took a three hour, four-wheel drive ride from Hanoi into the Bac Thong Province, staying overnight in Bac Khan before visiting Viet’s community the next day, which meant driving down dirt roads and crossing rivers before arriving at our destination.

Viet’s family were all there, as well as members of his extended family and much of the community. We shared food from their garden and swapped stories with their help of our interpreter. Viet joined us after completing an end of term exam. Hopefully I wasn’t disturbing his concentration. He assured me that he did well. I presented Viet with some pencils and other small gifts which he was very excited to receive.

After a quick tour or the school and the special honor of tea with the school principal it was time to leave.

It was fantastic to see the difference that ChildFund and fellow sponsors are making in the community, as well as the joy from Viet’s family and smiles on all the children’s faces. I am very proud to have a little brother that I can write to, share stories with and support. I feel that I have a greater perspective on life at home and am very thankful for the stability that we have in our lives here in the “lucky country”. It is important to remember that there are many countries and communities in the world that are not so lucky.