Children march for safe learning spaces on World Children’s Day
A call for safe learning spaces on World Children’s Day in Timor-Leste
Children make up about half of Timor-Leste’s population, but in a traditionally hierarchical society, the opinions of young people are often ignored. But not for long. This World Children’s Day, meet the young Timorese standing up for a safe, inclusive future for all.
A sharp rap-rap-rap of a heartbeat drumroll broke the noise of the chattering crowd swarming in front of the Government Palace in central Dili, and hundreds of blue-shirted children snapped suddenly to attention. Balloons and flags held aloft, faces raised to the afternoon sky, they fell into step behind the drum band, and started a determined march through the blocked-off path of one of the city’s busiest streets – a sign the children are here, and they’re demanding spaces that are safe, secure and inclusive for all.
“Ita hamutuk!” a girl called to curious bystanders, welcoming them in, We together.
To commemorate World Children’s Day—the annual celebration of the 20 November signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child—children in Timor-Leste organised a march and concert with the theme “safe learning spaces for all children.”
Five children, representing a group of 65 children who with support from UNICEF developed recommendations for how to achieve safe learning spaces through a consultation process, handed over their recommendations to the Minister for Education and Sport, Dulce de Jesus Soares. The Minster received their recommendations on behalf of the Prime Minister of the country and reiterated the government’s support for protecting and promoting children’s rights and realising children’s recommendations for safe learning space.
Now is children’s time!
“Today, we want to put children’s dreams, necessities, difficulties and challenges in the public centre to alter people to this universal priority,” she said. “We all set ourselves the goal for a good life for our children and the nation, to give an environment of health and stability, without violence, in which our children’s dreams and goals thrive.”
Minister Dulce stressed that merely signing conventions and approving laws and regulations isn’t enough without practically applicable measures to protect and prioritise children’s interests. What’s needed is action – and the children of Timor-Leste are ready.
As the afternoon stretched on hundreds of children from schools all over Dili watched their peers performing onstage – a school orchestra, modern and traditional dance groups, a glockenspiel performance from Agape, the school for the deaf, a fire-twirling demonstration, flag-waving, and two young pop singers earnestly chanting lyrics; ami labarik Timor ami mak futuru, we are Timorese children, we are the ones who are the future; ami iha direitu ida atu asesu edukasaun no hetan moris diak husi estudu, we have a right to access education and to receive a good life from the state.
“Agora tempu labarik nian!” said 15-year-old Fevia Maria Rozinha Hornai Hunes, a student in the crowd. Now is children’s time!
“Today is a special day for children to show their talents, to show what they can do, singing and playing music, and showing that now young people can have the capacity to change and to develop their communities,” she said. “We must listen to children because children can carry this country to the future and develop the nation of Timor-Leste.”
“Children are the fini ba futuru”
“Children are the fini ba futuru,” added 16-year-old Anzelia de Andrade with a cheery grin; the seeds of the future. “Sometimes when children speak adults don’t really listen to their opinions, because they think children are just playing, but they need to listen to children’s thoughts; they’re smart.”
Organised by and for children, the concert catered for hundreds, with stalls and food and music spilling out into the early evening air. A cloud of blue balloons rose was released into the sky, representing children’s commitment to upholding their own rights.
“Today we’re here to hear your voices,” UNICEF Timor-Leste Representative Valerie Taton told the crowd. “We’re coming together to ensure secure learning spaces for all children and going blue together for children’s rights.”
Male students must respect female students. Teachers must prepare materials before class. Teachers must not use corporeal punishment. We must respect students’ opinions. Municipal authorities must pay attention to students who don’t attend school and give support to all people to access education. People with disabilities have the same capacity and abilities as others.
And people were listening
The concert was attended by Hiroshi Minami, the Ambassador of Japan to Timor-Leste; Minister for Social Solidarity and Inclusion, Armanda Berta dos Santos, the Secretary of State for Social Communications Mericio Juvinal do Reis Akara; and hundreds of students from schools all over Dili, who listened in earnest as their peers spoke with passion and conviction about what’s needed to promote and protect the rights of all children in Timor-Leste.
The event was broadcast live by the National Television of Timor-Leste, reached most of the parts of the country with the demand for safe learning space, a legitimate demand where students, teachers and policy makers – everyone have their role to play. Thanks to the Government of Japan for supporting the event.
Long after the final blue balloon floated away, children and adults remained in the centre of the convention centre as the speakers played on, dancing together in the final shafts of evening light.