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A preschool close to home brings joy to young children in Timor-Leste

As the school year begins in Timor-Leste, a group of young children in a remote village are excitedly arriving at a new preschool.

Their parents gather around, as the children wash their hands with soapy water before classroom activities begin. This routine has been in place since the school opened in mid- January to keep the coronavirus at bay.

The school, a cheerful green, blue and orange building, was established by the community with the help of ChildFund, which provided training and materials. Inside, collections of books suitable for children between the ages of three and five sit on a shelf, alongside other learning materials and educational toys.

For five-year-old Nanju (pictured above), starting school has been a long-time coming. He is a curious and enthusiastic child, says his father Celestiano, and has been eagerly learning the alphabet at home while schools were closed during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Nanju is very active,” Celestiano says. “At home he was learning his ABCs and colouring-in.

“He is so happy now that the school is finally open.”

Before the preschool was built, children in the village walked 3km to the nearest preschool, which was in the city. The long walk on a steep and rocky road discouraged many families from enrolling their children in preschool.  

Starting school has been a long-time coming for five-year-old Nanju (pictured with his father Celestiano), who has been actively learning at home.

“I feel happy that we now have this school,” Celestiano says. “Children no longer have to travel far to learn.”

Nearby the school is a small garden that grows local fruit and vegetables, including spinach, squash, eggplant, water spinach and papaya. ChildFund and its local parents supported parents, teachers, children and other members of the community to establish the garden, which is helping to ensure that students – many whose families struggle financially – have access to at least one nutritious meal a day.

As part of the education project, ChildFund supported Nanju’s community to form and train a school management committee. ChildFund also worked with the Ministry of Education’s National Institute for Training of Teachers and Education Professionals (INFORDEPE) to train teachers in child-friendly teaching methods, to help them develop engaging lessons and activities for their students.

Nanju’s teacher, Antonieta, had limited teaching experience and training before starting at the new early education centre. “As part of ChildFund’s training, I have learnt how to plan for lessons, how to develop children’s abilities in the classroom, and understand more about inclusion and working with children with disabilities,” she says.

Antonieta says proper preschool education is important to help build children’s confidence, and ensure they have the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to start primary school.

Nanju loves to write and play soccer with his friends. When he grows up, he wants to be a mathematics teacher. Nanju’s father Celestiano left school in Grade 6, but he wants a better future for his son.

Education, says Celestiano, is important because it opens up opportunities and can help break the cycle of poverty. “I want Nanju to finish school – he is our hope.”

Preschool-aged children in Nanju’s community can now learn in a safe environment closer to home. The preschool was built by the community with the help of ChildFund Timor-Leste.

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