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At a glance: Timor-Leste

Amid conflict in Timor-Leste, a teacher cares for families displaced by violence

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/Gomes
Timorese volunteer camp coordinator Antonio Soares (left) with UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer Rodolfo Pereira, assessing the need for latrines at a camp for displaced people.

By Madhavi Ashok

DILI, Timor-Leste, 9 June 2006 – Taking care of some 2,000 men, women and children means getting up at 4 a.m. and working until midnight for Antonio Soares, a volunteer coordinator at a camp for displaced people in Comoro Has-Lara, Timor-Leste.

Mr. Soares was a schoolteacher in Dili before the civil unrest that has displaced approximately 70,000 people in the capital in recent weeks. He began volunteering when his school turned into a camp to host those affected by violence, and he has been helping there ever since.

Many families in the camp have lost almost everything. Water has become scarce and there is a serious shortage of latrines. Mr. Soares worked with a UNICEF team to assess the water and sanitation needs of displaced children and families; as a result of the assessment, the first batch of jerry cans for fresh water has already been delivered by UNICEF and its partners.

“Our tank can hold water only for half a day and then we run out, says Mr. Soares. “By giving the jerry cans, families can now store water for later use. At the same time, less water will be wasted.”

© UNICEF Timor Leste/2006/Ashok
Girls play at the displaced-persons camp, which was once a school, in Comoro Has-Lara, Timor-Leste.

More help on the way

UNICEF will return soon to build several urgently needed pit latrines and has also hired a company to collect garbage and clean latrines and drains in the camps.

To protect children from disease, UNICEF has been providing tetanus vaccines and vitamin A supplies in the most densely populated camps. UNICEF is also working with the Ministry of Health to launch a mass measles vaccination campaign on 13 June, targeting all children aged 6 months to 14 years. Along with the campaign, a nutritional assessment in the camps will also be conducted.

As days go by and unrest continues in Timor-Leste, questions loom about the families’ future and livelihoods. For the children, their normal routine of playing and going to school has been interrupted. Mr. Soares tries his best to make children’s lives easier by placing himself on call for nearly 20 hours a day.

All he wants, he says, “is a future for these children and lasting peace."



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