Education and sport empower a young woman to pursue her dreams in Timor-Leste
‘The State of the World’s Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,’ UNICEF’s flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents’ fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination.
DILI, Timor-Leste, 23 May 2011 – One of few girls on the basketball court, Inácia Aleta Gomes Fernandes, 15, must fight to hold her ground against taller, more aggressive male opponents. She takes a pass from a teammate, dribbles half way down the court and passes to another teammate, who shoots and scores.
Inácia dreams of being a professional basketball player. She often plays here, at a youth centre on the western edge of Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital. Through sport, Inacia and other teens find an outlet from the pressures of growing up in a neighbourhood notorious for gang fights and youth violence.
“I like it because I can meet new friends from different places,” said Inácia. “I can learn from my friends and from these activities.”
Inácia takes part in a UNICEF-supported programme that promotes peace-building through sports activities and life-skills classes that help adolescents build knowledge and healthy attitudes to address the challenges they face.
Sense of purpose
Her experiences at the youth centre, as well the chance to go back to school, mark a positive change from the past.
School provides a foundation for Inácia, whose parents were separated by the violence leading up to Timor-Leste’s founding nine years ago. Her father belonged to a pro-Indonesian militia, and fled to Indonesian West Timor in 1999. He hasn’t returned since.
“My mother cares for us because my father is away from us. My mother also sends the three of us to school. She wants us to finish and get good jobs.”
For Inácia, education offers a way to overcome hardship, and continue her path towards a better future.
“My main concern is how to continue my studies and at least finish my secondary school,” she said. “I hope my family can continue to support me to finish my studies. I want to look after my parents and my siblings. We want to move forward.”