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At a glance: Timor-Leste

UNICEF helps Dili residents made homeless by ethnic violence

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/Ruiz
A girl stands outside a latrine provided by UNICEF in Don Bosco camp in Dili, Timor-Leste. Don Bosco camp is one of the largest shelters for people forced from their homes by ethnic violence.

By Tani Ruiz

DILI, Timor-Leste, 16 June 2006 - It seems like a different era, but just two months ago Don Bosco was simply a college. Today, the school and the grounds surrounding it have become one of the largest camps for people displaced by the ethnic violence in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste.

Don Bosco was transformed into a camp right after Dili’s calm was shattered by the first bout of violence in late April. Thousands of people, fleeing homes that were burned and looted, or fearing destruction of their property, came for safety. Others poured in after 25 May, when street shootings shut down the capital and brought all humanitarian aid to a halt. Some 13,000 people now live in Don Bosco.

Living in Don Bosco

In the camp, traders have set up markets selling food and sundries. Nurses are helping the sick and 48 teachers have started informal classes for kids, with books, pens, pencils and other supplies provided by UNICEF. The luckier ones, who arrived early, occupy rooms.

Most families, however, are camped in the open or under awnings with just a few personal items. Mattresses cover every inch of floor space, serving not just as beds but sometimes as delivery tables for newborn babies. Laundry dries wherever it can be hung.

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/Ruiz
Jerry cans supplied by UNICEF help families carry and store water for drinking, cooking and washing. About 13,000 displaced people live in Don Bosco camp.

Don Bosco camp is well organized. It has a camp coordinator or ‘padre’ with volunteers helping out. But the daily task of providing sufficient water, food, sanitation, and other basic necessities to thousands of fearful people is a huge challenge.

Meeting the challenge

Meeting this challenge is the task of a humanitarian coordination group, led by the government and comprising several different players, including UNICEF. The deployment of international troops in Dili at the end of May boosted security, allowing the group to resume work.

“At Don Bosco, we’ve provided ten latrines so far, and we’re planning to supply another twelve,” says UNICEF Project Office Bishnu Pokhrel, “Proper sanitation is one of the ABCs of survival in an emergency. It’s crucial for avoiding epidemics and we’re really pleased that so far, there have been no serious outbreaks of disease in Don Bosco or the other camps in Dili.” 

UNICEF has hired a local waste management company whose trucks are cleaning the pit latrines and disposing of rubbish at Don Bosco and other places where displaced people are clustered.

UNICEF supplies vital fresh water

Everywhere you look in the camp there are plastic jerry cans, a UNICEF contribution which makes water easily transportable from communal taps.

“We’re okay with the water situation here,” says Anna Lemos, a petite mother of ten children.  Her youngest was born in the camp two weeks ago, on the mattress which she shares with two of her children. Her seven other kids are staying in Ermera district, to the east of Dili. Her husband sleeps in a different spot to allow them more room.

Anna and her family, like many others, go back to their house during the day to ensure it is still standing, to eat lunch and bathe. But they return to the safety of Don Bosco well before the sun sets.

Anna has no idea how much longer she’ll be at Don Bosco. With the conflict in Timor-Leste still unresolved, no one knows when the camps will empty. While normal life is in limbo, the residents here are using their crafts and skills to forge the best possible existence they can.



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