On one of my first trips for ChildFund, I visited newly independent Timor-Leste. It was 2006, and I arrived at the tail end of the unsuccessful coup and resulting military and civil violence.
As many as 150,000 people living in and around the capital of Dili had been displaced, with families fleeing the conflict by taking shelter in public buildings, churches and schools before the government was forced to establish internally displaced people, or IDP, camps to cope with the mass migration.
I arrived to see ChildFund at work in a crisis establishing Child Centred Spaces in the IDP camps to provide children with a safe haven and some sense of normality during the turmoil. The centres impressed me greatly €” with no school to attend, these hastily established environments gave children a place to go where they could draw, paint or simply play with their peers.
For parents, the spaces provided supervised care while they searched for other family members, or visited homes to assess the damage. In addition, ChildFund staff could monitor children for signs of extreme distress caused by the recent events. Many had been witness to acts of extreme violence.
This visit, my first to a country in conflict, highlighted for me the fragility of life for so many people in the world. Just weeks before, these Timorese families had been at home working, attending school, caring for children, beginning life anew after years of occupation.
Now, possessions and belongings gone, homes damaged and trapped in a city which had descended into violence and chaos, these same families were living in crowded, makeshift camps, with no jobs to go to and no government services ready to replace what had been lost.
Eventually, it would be time for them to start again all over again. Fortunately, ChildFund and similar organisations would be there to help pick up the pieces, but this would clearly take time, money and planning. It would not happen overnight.
Seven years later, I am pleased to see how far this young country has come. The mood in the country as it celebrated its first decade of independence last year was full of hope for the future. There are many challenges still ahead, but I hope that political stability and the sheer indomitable will of its people will see this tiny nation emerge from the shadows of its past.
The Difference a Decade Makes