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At a glance: Timor-Leste

Life-skills training for young people displaced by violence in Timor-Leste

UNICEF Image: Young people in Timor-Leste
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/See
A group of young people in Timor-Leste are all smiles at a UNICEF-supported life-skills training session – a healthy distraction for youths who otherwise have nothing to do while seeking refuge from the country’s recent unrest.

By Bridgette See

DILI, Timor-Leste, 12 July 2006 – When Jacinta dos Santos Guterres sought refuge at the São Jose Minor Seminary a month ago, she saw how frustrated children were at the camp for 1,500 people who fled their homes amid the recent violence in Timor-Leste.

“With nothing to do and no where to go, the young people were simply hanging around all day,” recalled Ms. dos Santos Guterres, who previously had served as coordinator of a UNICEF-supported project for children in the Comoro neighbourhood of Dili, the capital.

She knew that with so much free time in their hands, before long some of the youths in the camp would get into trouble. The best thing, she thought, would be to teach them some useful skills to help occupy their time and energy.

After getting the nod from camp managers and support from UNICEF, Ms. dos Santos Guterres adapted the organization’s life-skills 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.

UNICEF Image: UNICEF Timor-Leste consultant Alfredo de Jesus Mota
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/See
UNICEF Timor-Leste consultant Alfredo de Jesus Mota leads a discussion on decision-making with 30 young people on the rooftop of the São Jose Minor Seminary.

Girls especially vulnerable to abuse

On the rooftop of the seminary, a group of 30 young people gathered for their first lesson, dealing with decision-making. Under the blazing morning sun, they shifted around constantly in their chairs. But despite the limited resource 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.

“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,” said 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,” said 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.”
Working with partners, UNICEF plans to expand the training sessions. The lessons learned should not only help carry young people through this emergency but also rebuild their lives when peace finally comes.



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