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At a glance: Timor-Leste

Singing and sports help Timorese children cope in camps for displaced people

© UNICEF video
Child-protection volunteer (left) encourages children to sing at the Canossian Sisters Becora camp in Timor-Leste.

By Tani Ruiz

DILI, Timor-Leste, 27 June 2006 – The recent violence in Timor-Leste reopens emotional wounds for many. Forced out of their homes, tens of thousands of Timorese have had no choice but to live in crowded camps. Coping with harsh living conditions and pervasive fear, children and adolescents are at risk of not only psychological distress but also physical harm.

There are now more than 50 camps in the capital city of Dili, sheltering nearly 70,000 people. Among those displaced, almost half are children.

“There are lots of problems for children in this camp,” said Filomena Babo, a child-protection support team member in one of the camps. “There are cases of physical abuse, and I think a lot of sexual abuse happens,” she added.

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/Ruiz
UNICEF workers carry recreation kits into a camp for people displaced by conflict.

Child-protection volunteers

With many schools still closed and regular activities suspended, young people have a lot of time on their hands. Many of them are turning to unhealthy distractions like drinking and smoking. “Some of them here are gambling until midnight. They make noise, and their parents get angry and beat them,” said Ms. Babo.

Providing a protective environment for children and young people in the camps is a critical part of the humanitarian effort led by the government and supported by UNICEF, other UN agencies, NGOs and partners.

“One of the first actions we as a group took was to identify volunteers in the camps to help get children’s activities up and running,” said UNICEF Child Protection Project Officer Johanna Eriksson-Takyo. “Structured activity helps diffuse emotional stress and gives children some outlets for laughing – and crying as well.”

Dozens of child-protection ‘focal points’ in 22 camps have been selected and trained. They rally children together, using whatever resources they have on hand to organize play, singing, dancing and drawing.

“We help to gather the kids every day and we sing together,” said a volunteer at the Canossian Sisters Becora camp.

© UNICEF video
A boy whose leg was injured during the recent violence in Timore-Leste plays with a football from a UNICEF recreation kit.

Keeping minds on the ball

For adolescents, sport is often the best protection against destructive behaviour, and with the World Cup under way, football is the flavour of the day. UNICEF has distributed 50 recreation kits in 20 camps in Dili; each silver metal box contains materials such as footballs, basketballs and volleyballs – as well as a blackboard, chalk and skipping rope.

“Football is my favourite sport,” said Pedro Pinto, 10, kicking around a ball he just got from the recreation kit. “I’m very sad to leave my house and friends. I miss them a lot. But I feel safe here.”

Keeping the children’s minds on the ball and off their problems is essential in the packed camps. And for those injured in the violence, sport inspires physical recuperation too, noted a visiting surgeon from Australia, Dr. Glenn Guest.

“One of the things that helps them to recover,” said Dr. Guest, “is motivation to get up and actually start getting around again.”




27 June 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on how sports help Timorese children cope while living in crowded camps.
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