Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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.”

Tonica’s son was just a month-old when she noticed something was wrong. His health deteriorated after she took him to a hospital, where, sadly soon after, he died. Tonica still does not know the cause.

A lack of health information in remote and rural communities in Timor-Leste means many parents like Tonica are unable to recognise the danger signs of what might be common – and curable- childhood illnesses. In addition to complications at birth, malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria are common causes of neonatal deaths in the country.

Many mothers also give birth at home without a doctor or a midwife, and in unsafe conditions.

“I know two friends who have passed away giving birth,” Tonica says. “It makes me feel afraid and worried.”

Losing a child or parent is devastating for those left behind. But in developing countries, mothers too often lose their babies, and children too often lose their mothers.

Tonica lives in a remote community, high up in the mountains. She is only 21 years old, but has already experienced the heart-wrenching loss of a child, as well as two friends.

A lack of health infrastructure, resources and information in her community contributes to high maternal and infant mortality rates. Mothers are dying from complications during pregnancy, at childbirth, or soon after childbirth, and so are their newborns.