Singer Marvi becomes Timor-Leste’s UNICEF Youth Advocate

Singer Marvi becomes Timor-Leste’s first UNICEF Youth Advocate

UNICEF Timor-Leste
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2019/Soares
13 May 2019

National icon and singer Maria Vitória da Costa Borges, commonly known as Marvi, has been unveiled as the first UNICEF Youth Advocate in Timor-Leste. Marvi shot to global prominence late last year as winner of Portugal’s ‘The Voice’. 

Among a sea of bright blue banners, dignitaries and young people gathered in the country’s capital, Dili, to celebrate the occasion. The vibrant celebration featured a performance from the star, who sang together with the children from her neighbourhood. From videos to dances and discussions, the event was a celebration of the power of young people. 

Marvi shot to the national fame at the age of just fifteen after being awarded the fourth place in an international singing competition in 2016. The competition, based in Indonesia and featuring 36 international contestants, was televised across Timor-Leste and the region. With each round of the competition, she grew a bigger national following. 

Upon her return to Timor-Leste, she received a hero’s welcome with a sea of thousands of people waiting for a chance to catch a glimpse of the new star. 

Her success in Asia has paved the way for her continued success in Europe when Marvi came first in ‘The Voice Portugal’ amid tough competition. 

Humble beginnings

Well before the fame and celebrity, Marvi was just five years old when Timor-Leste’s 2006 crisis hit. It was during this time that Marvi was first introduced to the work of UNICEF while she was living with her family in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in the capital, Dili. It’s this work that has inspired her ever since. 

UNICEF Timor-Leste/2019/Soares
Children welcome Marvi as their Advocate by singing and dancing during the event.

“In 2006 I was in the IDP camp, and UNICEF was there helping vulnerable people. From our tent to our food, everything was provided by UNICEF,” said Marvi during the ceremony. “I’m incredibly thankful for this. These are the experiences that really motivate me.” 

It’s clear that these formative experiences have helped shape Marvi and continue to inspire her to advocate for the rights of children. 

“I am thankful to UNICEF for choosing me. It’s something that I could never have imagined would happen,” she continued. “I take my motivation from the past. As I explained today, these are things that I have been through. But now UNICEF has given me this opportunity, I am focused on how I can motivate other children.” 

It was during this time that Marvi also participated in her first ever signing contest, run by UNICEF in the IDP camp for children as part of the psychosocial support, and discovered her talent. 

“They had competitions, dancing, everything for the children. We can express what we want to,” Marvi explained. 

But this was just the beginning of her journey to success. 

Marvi continued to participate in countless singing competitions throughout her childhood, with her loving and supportive parents by her side. 

“They completely support me,” she said with a smile. “From the beginning, it has been through their motivation that I can discover what I want, particularly relating to music. Until now, whatever I want to do, they support it.” 

Giving back 

Having found success in her singing career, Marvi is proud to have the opportunity to give back to her community.  But this is something that Marvi has always done, well before she became famous for her singing. 

While publicly known as Marvi, to the kids in her neighbourhood she continues to be known as “Ama Nina” (Mother Nina). 

Since 2011, Marvi has been working with the children in her neighbourhood to help them find their own passion and talents, just as UNICEF once did with her. 

“From a young age, I have been bringing children together,” said Marvi. “Every day they would come to our house to learn. Praying, singing, dancing. I would always do small competitions at home, and the winner would get a small sweet. 

“They were happy with what I gave them, and what I do, and that’s when they started calling me “Ama Nina,” she added. 

In the lead up to the signing event, Marvi spent four days practising two songs and a cultural dance with the children in her neighbourhood. They performed proudly by her side to a full room.

“We are the future of Timor-Leste, we are the light of tomorrow. We are the future of Timor-Leste, the happiness of tomorrow is waiting for us,” they sang. 

UNICEF Timor-Leste/2019/Soares
Marvi, known as “Ama Nina” in her neighbourhood, she sang with her neighbour’s children during the event.

A true partnership

It was this passion for children that lead UNICEF to approach Marvi to become a Youth Advocate. 

“Marvi chose UNICEF as much as UNICEF chose her. It’s important because we need to think alike and have the same commitment. Marvi has a tremendous passion for children,” said Valérie Taton, UNICEF Representative to Timor-Leste.

By partnering with UNICEF, Marvi will be able to expand the reach of her work with children and young people and have an impact far beyond her neighbourhood. 

Timor-Leste hosts one of Asia’s youngest populations: nearly half the population was born after independence in 2002. 

“UNICEF’s work is to look out for children. Children that don’t have strength. How? By looking at the health of children, their needs. For the community, the communities that really need out support. This is what I hope we can do well,” said Marvi. “Together, we can help the children that really need support.”  

As the ceremony comes to an end, young audience members flock around Marvi for the chance to talk to the star and ask her advice. When asked later about the questions she gets from other young people she explains simply, “when I talk to them, I just talk about my experiences.” It’s clear they are enamoured. 

With advocates like Marvi, there is hope that more young people in Timor-Leste will have the opportunity to follow in her footsteps and achieve success – both in their education and in reaching their dreams. 

UNICEF Timor-Leste/2019/Soares
Marvi attended an interaction session with the young people as part of the event.

“I am proud to be a UNICEF Youth Advocate and a voice for the young people of Timor-Leste. Young people represent nearly half of my countries population and represent its future. Investing in us today will not only help people like me realise our rights and our dreams, it will help Timor-Leste have a brighter tomorrow,” said Marvi following the event.  

UNICEF Timor-Leste/2019
Video of the Singer Marvi joins UNICEF Timor-Leste as Youth Advocate