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Marta, a role model for Timorese girls, is born

Illustrators at work
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2005/See
Illustrators at work to create Marta, the role model for Timorese girls

By Bridgette See

DILI, TIMOR-LESTE, 17 November 2005

A very special girl child recently came to life in Timor-Leste. The brainchild of 30 writers, illustrators and civil society representatives working for children and women’s rights, ‘Marta’ was conceived during a five-day workshop organized by UNICEF Timor-Leste.

Marta is modelled after Meena, the animation character developed in 1998 as a role model for South Asian girls. Like Meena, Marta will be an empowered girl figure who is able to act, to ask questions and seek solutions to the problems that confront her and her friends and family.

She is to be the star of a communication initiative launched in June 2006 that includes a multimedia package of storybooks, radio melodrama series, posters and songs to advance girls’ rights.

“Marta can become a powerful model if all the NGOs, including UNICEF, continue to support her and make her come alive. Otherwise she’ll just remain a cartoon,” said illustrator Dino Hanjan.

First Lady Kirsty Sword Gusmao at the Marta workshop
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2005/Lambert
First Lady Kirsty Sword Gusmao tours the Marta illustration development exhibition

“It gives me great pleasure to represent the cause of women and girls and support this initiative to evolve a national icon. As adults, as decision makers and care givers, we need to ensure that the Martas of Timor-Leste are cared for, nurtured, educated and thus liberated from the bondage of cultural and social values that often threaten to engulf them,” announced First Lady Kirsty Sword Gusmao at the closing of the workshop. The First Lady is also the Director of Alola Foundation, a local women’s NGO.

The workshop participants selected issues of key relevance to young girls in Timor-Leste: early marriage, school drop-outs, water sanitation and immunization and then wrote stories and developed storyboards.

Lively debates centred on Marta’s appearance: how fair or dark her skin should be, if her hair is curly or straight, and what type of clothes she should wear. The illustrators then spent sleepless nights sketching Marta as they struggled to incorporate the myriad suggestions. Their final drawings were shown to children and adults in two villages about 45minutes from Dili, who confirmed that Marta should be a 10-year-old girl with straight dark hair and slightly brown skin.

“I’m glad that UNICEF brought so many partners together to create Marta. By being involved in the process of creating Marta, I feel that she is really alive,” said Simplicio Lopes Barbosa, Care International.





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