UNICEF - Humanitarian Action Report 2007 - Feature story for Timor-Leste
Humanitarian Action Report 2007 - Homepage


Skills for life in Timor-Leste

When Jacinta dos Santos Guterres sought refuge at São José Minor Seminary in June, she saw how frustrated children were at the camp hosting 1,500 people who had fled their homes amid the recent violence in Timor-Leste.

“With nothing to do and nowhere to go, young people were simply hanging around all day,” says Ms. dos Santos Guterres, who had previously served as coordinator of a UNICEF-supported project for children and young people in the Comoro neighbourhood of Dili, the capital.

She knew that with so much free time on their hands, some of the youths in the camp would get into trouble before long. The best thing, she thought, would be to teach them some useful skills to occupy their time, and also help them make better informed decisions before joining in any activities.

Already, there had been reports of young people living in camps fighting with those subsisting in surrounding neighbourhoods.

So after getting the nod from camp managers and support from UNICEF, Ms. dos Santos Guterres and UNICEF adapted the organization’s life skills-based education modules – designed to suit young people’s needs in emergencies – into a five-day training session.

The training covers how to improve self-awareness, cope with emotional stress and communicate effectively. Issues such as HIV/AIDS, drugs and alcohol are addressed as well.

Girls especially vulnerable to abuse

When UNICEF visited São José Minor Seminary, a group of 30 young people had gathered on the rooftop for a life skills-based education training session. Under the blazing morning sun, they shifted around constantly in their chairs. But despite the limited resources and harsh conditions, all were fully attentive.

Among them was Jaquelina Fonseca, 16. “I got a headache when I sat at the camp listening to people gossip,” she said. “It stressed me out. So I am glad to be at this training. I can make new friends and also learn new things.”

Girls are particularly vulnerable in the camps, facing the constant threat of physical and sexual abuse. By participating in the training sessions, they can more successfully cope with stress and stay away from violence. As of August, 10 cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse (including two cases of rape) have been reported to Rede Feto, a Timorese Women’s Network monitoring gender-based violence occurring in camps.

“I wanted to join this training because I don’t know myself well enough,” said a young man in the group, Albino Fatima, 25. Like thousands of others across the newly independent nation, he is unemployed and frustrated. Instead of joining the protestors on the streets, however, Albino found hope in the life skills training.

HIV/AIDS prevention messages

“Sometimes at night, you can see young men and women sitting together in dark places,” says Ms. dos Santos Guterres. “Nobody dares to tell them off. We just pretend we don’t see them and walk away quickly.”

In a society where many people prefer to ‘see no evil,’ spreading messages among young people on how to protect themselves from diseases like HIV/AIDS is crucial. “Traditionally we don’t have a culture of saying ‘no’, which is what they will learn in this course,” says UNICEF Assistant Project Officer for HIV/AIDS Prevention Milena Rangel. “We are also going to discuss what constitutes molestation and inappropriate behaviour so that young women can understand their risks, and be more assertive.”

The lessons learned should not only help carry young people through this emergency but also rebuild their lives when peace finally comes. UNICEF has trained adult facilitators in Baucau, Los Palos and Dili to carry out more of these sessions. It has also partnered with Timorese NGO Fundasaun Hari Timor (‘Build Timor Foundation’) to reach out by year end to some 400 youths living in camps for internally displaced people in Dili.

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006

A group of 30 young people are attending a five-day life skills-based education training session at São José Minor Seminary.