Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Leticia, aged six, is a playful, young girl living in the Liquica, Timor-Leste. She lives with a disability that has been with her since birth.

For children living in rural and remote parts of Timor-Leste, accessing early childhood education isn’t always easy – and it’s even more difficult for children who live with a disability.

Early childhood education is important. ChildFund Timor-Leste worked with communities to build disability inclusive community preschools so that children like Leticia can learn and play in a safe environment. We spoke to Leticia and her mother, Apolonia, about the new school.  

Apolonia

Apolonia, aged 25, is a young mother with two daughters, including Leticia. Leticia had a complicated birth. She struggles to keep her balance and often experiences weakness on the left side of her body.

“When my daughter Leticia was born, she landed on her stomach and did not cry, but after a time the midwife came and shook her, she moved and started crying, and she has had this problem,” she said.

Apolonia became involved with ChildFund when they came to their town build a preschool that Leticia now attends. ChildFund provided learning materials, training for the teachers and toys for the school.

“When she first started school, we were anxious. But after one week at school, I could see that she was happy because of her friends, she was learning many new things, we can see that she can writes even though still unclear what she writes. She showed us at home all the things that her teachers taught her, she can dance, she learned the ABCs.”

Apolonia has seen many changes in her daughter since starting school. Her numeracy and literacy skills have significantly improved.

“I’m moved by her progress, and she smiles happily, and plays with friends.”

ChildFund partnered with parents to encourage them to take an active role in their children’s education. “I want to help my daughter even though she lives with this disability. I don’t want to look at her situation and limitations, but I want to help her to achieve her goals and I’m thankful for ChildFund because they built the preschool here in our village.”

Leticia picture with her mother, Apolonia.

Leticia

Six-year-old Leticia is happy to learn and play with her friends at school.

“I came to new school happy. I like the teachers teaching and when we sing songs together,” she said.

Her favourite activity is writing. Leticia speaks slowly, but she is improving her speech impediment and is able to communicate better with her friends and family. She has dreams of being a teacher when she grows up.

Romalda – A volunteer teacher at the community preschool.

“I want to help young children to come and learn,” said Romalda.

Romalda is a volunteer teacher at the new preschool in Liquica. Over the last year, she has faced may challenges in keeping children enrolled in school. At the start of the school year, she had 27 students and now she has 19.

“I tried talk to their parents, and they told me they do not have time to bring their child to school because they are in farm, they said next year they will bring their child to school.”

Despite these challenges, she is passionate about teaching. Leticia is one of her students. Romalda believes that every child like Leticia should be given an opportunity to learn.

“When Leticia first came to class, her hand was soft and she stuttered, so we helped her by drawing dots on her notebook so she could write by following the dots, and we assisted her in holding the pencil.”

Romalda and other community volunteers attended training organised by the National Institute for Training of Teachers and Education Professionals. ChildFund is partnering with the Ministry of Education to train a set of volunteers to improve their teaching skills.

Learn more about improving literacy in Timor-Leste.

A grandmother, a teacher and a young girl are all on a journey to improve literacy levels in the Manatuto Municipality in Timor-Leste. Over the last two years, all three of them have taken part in Library for All, a digital literacy program rolled out in schools across the region.

Library for All is an online library that holds more than 100 culturally relevant books. These stories are written by a selection of local and international authors, with support from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

Since the start of the program, ChildFund Timor-Leste has seen a significant improvement in children’s numeracy, reading and writing skills. ChildFund recently spoke with Maria, Luizinha and Gaspar to learn more about their involvement in the program. This is what they had to say:

Maria

Maria (pictured left), a 62-year-old grandmother, has been the guardian of her two young grandsons ever since their parents moved to the city to find work and support the family. She first heard about the digital library from a teacher at her grandson’s primary school.

“The teachers invited us to a meeting where they talked about the tablets. We were informed that the school has allowed the tablets to be taken home and explained how we, as parents, can support our children at home,” said Maria.

Since having access to the digital tablets and the online library, Maria has seen the boys’ literacy skills improve significantly.

“I have two boys in Grade 2. Before they used the tablet, they always played outside and only came home when it was mealtime. They barely knew the alphabet and only guessed the letters, but after they were allowed to take the tablet home, I noticed changes. They recognise letters, they can count better and can already explain the story through the illustrations they see.”

Maria is happy with the changes she has seen in the boys. “They take turns reading, and I like the tablet because the content is only about the stories and there are no other games, so it is really good for them to learn.”

In the future, Maria is hopeful that the program will continue to allow the students to take home the tablet. “People are thoughtful about our children’s future. That is why they facilitate us with these digital libraries.”

Luizinha

Nine-year-old Luizinha (pictured left) uses the digital library three times a week and is always excited about her reading sessions. “I love reading about octopus, because the books have many beautiful drawings.”

Luizinha is in the second grade at her primary school. Having access to the digital library has improved her literacy and writing skills and she has grown to love reading. When asked about the thing she loves about the digital library she said: “I think it is good because it has a lot of stories.”

When she’s not reading, Luizinha also enjoys studying mathematics, and dreams of a becoming a teacher one day.

Gaspar

Primary school coordinator, Gaspar (pictured below), was thrilled to learn that the digital library program would be coming to his school.

“I felt really happy because this is already a big help to the students and has contributed to their development. Through the tablets, students learn more about the alphabet and they can form sentences better.”

“This is first time we have had a program like this. We have our own library, but there are limited books, and some of them are out of date.” The school has faced limited resourcing in general and often lacks adequate books, tables, chairs, and stationery.

Despite the many setbacks schools have faced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gaspar has witnessed first-hand the positive impacts that the program has had on his students. Especially as schools closed and students were forced to continue to learn from home.

“I observe that the students are keen to read by themselves. They can write by themselves through the digital library and can easily use the tablet. I encourage the parents to assist their children read and study at home.”

“I think the stories and drawing are a nice fit for the children’s age. Although I would suggest adding more information on how to form a sentence and short phrases. This would help teachers in teaching their students.”

He has also seen the teachers he works with become more confident in their teaching skills.

“I assigned three teachers to be responsible for the digital library at this school, and I have seen their progress is continuing. They know how to operate the tablet and are more confident in leading group reading sessions.”

Teachers that are implementing this project have improved their digital literacy after training provided to them by ChildFund.  They are better equipped to guide their students through their literacy sessions three times a week.  

“I wish ChildFund team will continue support this program for long term because it will benefit many children.”

Learn more about improving literacy in Timor-Leste.