Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Joseta only has a meal once a day, usually porridge made with rice and water. If they are available she will add papaya leaves, taro or cassava.

It was especially difficult when she was pregnant with her youngest child, Graciano.

“I felt hungry all the time,” Joseta says. “I was eating sosoro (rice porridge), corn, cassava leaves, papaya leaves and a bit of fruit. I rarely ate any meat.”

Today, Graciano is 21 months old but not much has changed for the mother of four, who lives in a remote village in Timor-Leste, where many families are struggling to access enough food to feed their families.

After her husband died, Joseta moved into a home with her children and her mother, and three other families. Together, five adults and eight children share four tiny rooms in a makeshift shack made of wood and corrugated iron sheets.

Joseta stays at home to care for her children and her only income comes from her mother Elisa, who is also a widow and makes a living by growing and selling cassava, papaya, taro and corn.

Poverty and a lack of nutritious food has been detrimental to the health of the family, particularly to Joseta’s youngest child Graciano.

While Joseta did not have much to eat while she was pregnant, Graciano was born at a healthy weight of about 3kg. She breastfed her baby boy for two months before moving him on to plain rice porridge.

“I had a lot of milk, but I stopped breastfeeding Graciano because he kept crying,” Joseta says.

Seventeen-year-old Feb (pictured above) is blazing a trail in her small community in Timor-Leste. She is a passionate and confident ChildFund Pass It Back coach who wants to change the future for girls and women in her country.

“In Timor-Leste, there is no gender equality,” she says. “We still use this ancient system, where opportunities are given to boys or men. There are less opportunities in terms of education and jobs for girls and women. Women have no opportunity to lead; they just know how to cook.”

But Feb is stirring the pot. As a ChildFund Pass It Back coach she is a part of a new generation of girls and young women in Timor-Leste who are learning about their rights and taking action.

“What I would like to change in Timor-Leste is this ancient system; we have to give opportunities for girls and women so they can develop themselves and they can become leaders,” Feb says.

Recently, she applied to become a member of the Youth Parliament. Her motive?

“I want to raise the issue of gender equality,” Feb says. “I want equal opportunities for girls and boys in Timor-Leste.”

BREAKING BARRIERS

Feb grew up in a disadvantaged community, where her parents worked on the family farm and sold rice and vegetables to raise their five children.

Where many children in similar circumstances dropped out of school to help their parents and contribute to the household income, Feb was determined to finish her education. A few years ago she left home and moved in with an aunt so she could be closer to a good secondary school.

“When I finish secondary school, I want to go to university,” Feb, who is now in Grade 9, says. “I want to study English and Information Technology.”