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At a glance: Timor-Leste

Emergency education classes in Timor-Leste

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/See
Children attending UNICEF-supported emergency classes at the Metinaro camp for people displaced by unrest in Timor-Leste.

By Bridgette See

METINARO, Timor-Leste, 16 August 2006 – Lurdes Freitas, 10, was all ears as she stood watching her friend name the parts of her body in Portuguese for the rest of the class. Lurdes is one of 300 children who had registered for emergency classes at the Metinaro camp for people displaced by unrest in Timor-Leste.

When her family’s home was razed in late April, they fled to this camp, which is about an hour east of Dili, the capital. Lurdes has lived here for three months and, like thousands of Timorese children, has seen her education disrupted as a result.

“They burnt our house, beat up our friends and even shot at us. We’re afraid to go home,” she said.

Non-formal setting

“The children are fearful and traumatized, so UNICEF is trying to restore some normalcy by running emergency classes together with the Ministry of Education, NGOs and volunteers,” said UNICEF Education Project Officer Peter Ninnes.

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/See
Senior Programme Assistant Jorge Mouzinho gives volunteer teachers a ‘show-and-tell’ presentation with a UNICEF School-in-a-Box during a two-day emergency education training session.

A UNICEF team has trained volunteers at the Metinaro camp to use songs, dance and games to help children learn about the human body in a non-formal setting. This not only occupies their time but also prepares them for the upcoming new school year in September.

Schools in Dili had resumed classes in July, but many parents were unwilling to send their children due to security fears. Now, school holidays are in effect.

School-in-a-Box kits

Teaching and learning materials from UNICEF School-in-a-Box kits have been distributed at the Metinaro camp, with every child receiving a carrier with a notebook, eraser, sharpener and pencils for the temporary classes. Five volunteers cope with the hundreds of children who eagerly come for class three times a week.

“It’s tough but we’re happy to do this for the children,” said volunteer teacher Santiago Ximenes Vaz, 26.

The Ministry of Education and UNICEF are now discussing plans to construct bigger temporary learning spaces for communities where school buildings have been destroyed. Parent-teacher associations could receive funding and guidelines to build these units, which in turn will encourage communities to actively support the integration of displaced students.

Education for all

These emergency classes and learning spaces are part of a ‘Back to School’ campaign jointly organized by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF. The campaign aims to encourage displaced students to resume schooling in Dili or the outlying districts in September.

“A major concern is the children’s safety, as there have been reports of children being stoned while going to school,” said Mr. Ninnes. “On our part, we’re working on a broad social mobilization campaign to communicate the key message that every child has the right to education and to ask communities to actively support displaced children to return to schools safely.”

To support those who have lost their possessions due to the crisis and to encourage school attendance, the campaign organizers have decided to provide students with basic learning materials. But instead of just targeting displaced children, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF will provide school bags, stationery and other learning materials for all 200,000 primary schoolchildren in Timor-Leste.




11 August 2006:
UNICEF’s Max Stahl reports from Timor-Leste, where recent unrest has caused 150,000 people to flee to refugee camps.
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