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At a glance: Timor-Leste

UNICEF develops ‘Marta’, an animated role model for girls

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2005/Renato
Two Marta prototypes were shown to children and adults for their feedback in two villages about 45 minutes from Dili, the capital.

By Bridgette See

DILI, Timor-Leste, 17 November 2005 – A very special girl was born recently in Timor-Leste. She is the brainchild of 30 writers, illustrators and civil society representatives working for children and women’s rights, who conceived her at a five-day workshop organized by UNICEF Timor-Leste.

This little girl is ‘Marta’, an empowered figure who is able to take action, ask questions and seek solutions to problems which face her – and her friends and family.

Timorese First Lady Kirsty Sword Gusmao was present at the workshop and offered her support. “It gives me great pleasure to represent the cause of women and girls and support this initiative to evolve a national icon,“ she said. “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.” The First Lady is also the Director of the Alola Foundation, a local women’s non-governmental organization (NGO).

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2005/Lambert
Timorese First Lady Kirsty Sword Gusmao views the Marta prototypes.

Role models help promote children’s rights, especially for girls

Marta is modeled after ‘Meena’, the South Asian animation character who was first developed in 1998 to be a role model for girls. Mira Mitra, a Child Development Project Officer from UNICEF Bangladesh who has worked on Meena stories for 10 years led the workshop in Timor-Leste.

After introducing the Meena initiative, Mitra helped the workshop participants identify issues unique to Timor-Leste so that they could begin writing Marta’s stories. The participants decided to explore the issues of early marriage, dropping out of school, water, sanitation and immunization.

Labour pains were felt especially when the participants had to decide how Marta should look. There were lively debates on 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 45 minutes from Dili, who decided that Marta should be a 10-year-old girl with straight dark hair, and light brown skin.

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2005/See
Illustrators at work creating Marta, a role model for Timorese girls.

The workshop was the first step towards developing a communication initiative which will include a multimedia package of storybooks, radio dramas, posters and songs to advance girls’ rights.

Partnerships are key

“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.

A task force comprised of radio producers, writers, NGO staff, and illustrators will continue to nurture the process until Marta is unveiled on 1 June 2006, Timor-Leste’s National Children’s Day.

“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 and I have a strong sense of ownership,” said Simplicio Lopes Barbosa from Care International, a relief organization whose artists and writers participate in the creation of Marta.

It is back to the drawing board again for the artists who will continue to fine tune Marta’s appearance based on field tests between now and February.



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