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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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ChildFund Timor-Leste is working with the Alola Foundation to support men in the Liquica District to have better conversations around maternal health so that they can better support mothers giving birth and raise strong, healthy children.

Laurindo and Jorge are two fathers taking part in the MenCare training program. The workshops support men in rural and remote areas to grow their knowledge and develop the leadership skills so they can lead their own forums and talk to their peers about maternal health.

The MenCare program empowers men to talk to their peers about maternal and children’s health care. This involves caring for their wife and child immediately after birth, understanding common children’s illnesses and gender equality in the home. This means sharing domestic duties and caring responsibilities evenly.

One man taking part in the MenCare program.

Jorge is a community leader and runs a saving and loan education program in his village. He took part in the MenCare training so he could confidently start conversations about maternal health with other men in his community.

“In the training sessions we focused on group work and learned about a whole variety of health topics. I really appreciated this and was happy to see that I already knew some of the information they were sharing. After the training, I went back and shared what I had learnt with other men in my community.”

The MenCare training in Liquica.

Jorge explained that this training was helpful because the information supports men in the community to help their partners when they have children and that he can already apply what he learned to his own life.

Laurindo is also a role model in his community, sharing what he knew about maternal and children health with his peers, but he knew there were some gaps in his knowledge. After attending the training, he said that he knew more about gender equality and could see ways to apply this knowledge to his own life.

“When we talked about gender there is a saying that men can do women’s work but there are some things that men can’t do like give birth and breastfeed. But we learned that in every other way, men and women are equal and I agree with that,” said Laurindo.

Laurindo said that this training has strengthened his role as a father.

“I have to be honest and sincere as a father. I play with my kids, play football, tell them stories and sometimes take the kids for a walk. I share my experiences with them, I encourage them to study too.”

Fathers like Jorge and Laurindo play a critical role in breaking down gender barriers and raising awareness for maternal healthcare. Through the MenCare training, they have the skills and confidence to have open conversations about maternal health with other men in their areas.

ChildFund is committed to partnering with local organisations in the communities where we work, to reduce poverty and achieve long-term and continue improvements in the lives of children and their families.

We believe that working with local partners enhances our capacity to realise children’s rights and improves the effectiveness and reach of the programs we support. By working together, we can harness local knowledge, ensure community needs are met and promote transparency and accountability.

In this new series, we will introduce you to our incredible local partners, whose work is changing the lives of children throughout the Asia-Pacific. This week we spoke with Khun Bunlee, Executive Director of Khmer NGO for Education (KHEN).

When was your organisation established and why?

Khmer NGO for Education (KHEN) was established in 2014. We believe in providing quality education for children across the country, particularly those in rural and remote areas. We work with children and their communities in the Battambang Province to ensure that the rights of all children are fulfilled through access to quality and comprehensive education.

What are the main challenges facing the children and families with whom you work?

The communities we work in often have no formal schools. Many schools are formed under houses by parents in the community. Because of this, children in rural areas have little access to quality education.

Over 90% of children’s families rely on agriculture and many children are seen helping or are taken out of school to help their family earn money through rice field work, cassavas, and cashew nut farming. We work in districts where the poverty rate is between 30 and 40%.

Child safeguarding is also an issue in the area with many people not knowing what child protection is or why it is important. Health is another issue. The community often lack access to clean water. Through education, families can learn what they can do to keep themselves healthy.

What kinds of activities do you implement to overcome these challenges?

We’re working with communities and parents to build formal schools in over 100 communities. We are renovating school classrooms and equipping them with desks, toilet blocks, playgrounds, libraries, teaching materials and studying material provided to all children.

These activities support students in rural schools to continue onto higher education. Our classrooms and schools are also being made to support children with disabilities.

We work with teachers and school management to facilitate training for teachers on how to support all children and support capacity building opportunities. We are working in collaboration with local partners and the Department of Education.

How do you monitor the effectiveness of your work?

KHEN is a grassroots NGO working in partnership with parent associations, school support committees, children’s clubs, communes, schools and local authorities to ensure the project impacts are sustainable in the community.

All programs monitor the progress in schools, families and villages. All staff are locally recruited and are working in their own community. They engage with parents and government officers to facilitate school visits to monitor progress. Senior members of the team complete evaluations to ensure all programs are on track.

How long have you been worked in partnership with ChildFund?

We have worked with ChildFund since 2017. This partnership has provided KHEN with opportunities to have a greater impact in our education work and children’s rights. With this support, we’ve been able to access more communities across the province.

What are the benefits of this partnership?

The partnership with ChildFund has helped our team gain more capacity to do our day-to-day work. We have received support on how to build and create model schools. Over the years, the partnership has allowed us to continue to improve and expand our work in education and build more preschools for young children. Training facilitated by ChildFund has taught local youth volunteers to be more confident in their leadership roles.

What initiatives do you have planned for the future?

Drawing on what we learned through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are going to expand the digital platforms that children can learn. We are going to set up a computer course for our youth group so that they can help the younger children learn to safely use the computer.

What would you consider to be the greatest impact your organisation has had on children, families or communities with whom you work?

The lives of those rural community children including the children with disability changes and keeps on changing through education. If we continue to build schools and support learning in communities, then they can grow up to be empowered individuals. Children in rural areas now have greater access to be able to learn to read and write.

As a staff member of KHEN, can you share with us a recent personal highlight of the work you do?

Education can transform the lives of children in rural communities and support them to reach their full potential. But we need to start the work now and reach out to rural children. We must start to support children and their communities to access a quality education.

It should be all equality, equity, social justice and education for all. I strongly believe that through education, change can happen.