Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Hundreds of pre-school children in rural and remote communities in Timor-Leste have received learning packs from ChildFund, allowing them to continue their education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year a roll-out of government restrictions to curb the impact and spread of the virus in Timor-Leste resulted in the closure of schools across the country, leaving many children in disadvantaged communities without access to opportunities to learn and play.

Over the past several weeks ChildFund Timor-Leste has been distributing educational packs to children in 10 early childhood development centres in Liquica and Lautem municipalities. More than 350 children have received a pack, which includes storybooks, toys, Lego, jigsaw puzzles, balls, drawing and writing materials, as well as soap and information on COVID-19 and hygiene.

Four-year-old Jenilda was scheduled to start school for the first time at an early education centre supported by ChildFund in Lautem when the pandemic hit.

She was eager to start learning, her mother Victoria says, but when the centre was forced to close because of government restrictions, Jenilda had to stay home and her education was delayed.

The learning pack Jenilda received from ChildFund has brought her a lot of joy and kept her mind and body active, says Victoria.

“The materials help our children play and learn at home,” Victoria says.

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 has been used by ChildFund Timor-Leste to send reminders and information to mothers in hard-to-reach regions about maternal and child health. Now, it is 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.”