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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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A mobile application is helping mothers and their families living in remote and rural communities in Timor-Leste stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Liga Inan text messaging service, which ChildFund Timor-Leste has been using to send reminders and information to mothers in hard-to-reach regions about maternal and child health, is now being used to educate families about the deadly virus.

ChildFund Timor-Leste’s Health Project Coordinator Ninivia (pictured below), who is helping to adapt the service to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in vulnerable regions in Timor-Leste, says pregnant women and mothers who have registered for the platform are now receiving COVID-19 alerts on their phones.

The messages are about how to prevent the spread of the virus, and how to identify and treat symptoms, and are based on the advice and information distributed by Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation.

“Handwashing is the one of the main messages that has been sent out,” she says. “There are also messages about the importance of social and physical distancing, and how to identify the common symptoms of the virus. There are also messages focused on best practice for pregnant and lactating mothers during the COVID situation, like whether or not to continue breastfeeding if they are sick.”

Ninivia says she is worried about the spread of the virus in remote areas because Timor-Leste does not have the resources to cope with an outbreak.

“We don’t have enough equipment yet or enough facilities if the outbreak happens across the country,” she says. “It would be a huge challenge not only for the Ministry of Health, but also for the INGOs like ChildFund to support the government and communities in an outbreak. Health facilities in our country are quite limited, especially in rural communities.

“Even in metropolitan hospitals there is a lack of equipment like ventilators, so if an outbreak occurred in rural areas the communities there would struggle to find support.”

Mother-of-eight Sousa is a force for change in her community.

As a ChildFund Community Health Volunteer, the 33-year-old is an inspiring role model to the women and girls in her remote village in Timor-Leste, helping families ensure their children can grow up safe and healthy.

She plays an important role, organising support groups to ensure mothers know how to best care for themselves and their children. She also regularly visits parents in their homes to monitor the growth and basic health of their children. If there are any signs of childhood illnesses or malnutrition, it is Sousa who will raise the alarm and refer the family to a health professional.

Through training female Community Health Volunteers like Sousa in remote disadvantaged villages, ChildFund is helping to empower women to become leaders and make a difference in their communities.

“Since I joined ChildFund’s activities I learnt the right nutrition and care for children aged five and under,” Sousa says. “I share the knowledge that I learnt during my training to other women in my community.”

Sousa also helps her husband on the family farm, growing maize, squash, peanut and string beans, and makes tais, a traditional woven cloth, (pictured above in main photo) to sell at the markets.

Her priorities, however, are being there for her children when they need her, and her work as a Community Health Volunteer.