Young people at the forefront of flood-recovery efforts in Timor-Leste

Young people at the forefront of flood-recovery efforts in Timor-Leste

UNICEF Timor-Leste
Young people at the forefront of flood-recovery efforts in Timor-Leste
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2021/Ceu
14 June 2021

Heavy rains and winds lashed much of Timor-Leste on the first weekend of April. This caused the worst flooding in 40 years, washing away or damaging roads and bridges, houses, schools and other buildings and causing landslides. The floods led to the death or disappearance of 41 people and affected 33,177 families throughout the country. Dili, the capital, was worst hit, with 12,378 temporary displaced persons finding shelter in 43 evacuation facilities after the floods. 

Despite being directly affected themselves, adolescents and youth have mobilized and been spurred to action to help their communities. In Dili alone, youth groups have cleaned 68 houses of dirt and debris and provided 246 households with some form of humanitarian assistance.

Seventeen-year-old Ernizia Katty Abrantes dos Santos and her friends were busy with spades, shoveling away layers of mud in the home of Antoninho Doutel Fernandes in Becora suburb. The gooey mud sucks off footwear as she and her friends from the youth group União Nacional Escuteiros Timor-Leste (UNETL), ESHANA and Juventude Hadomi Natureza help the family clean up the home. 

“With support from my parents, I joined this effort to help affected communities, and it taught me a lot on how to be empathetic and help those families who lost their houses. Through this work, I can see their situation,” said 17-year-old, Ernizia dos Santos. 

Young people at the forefront of flood-recovery efforts in Timor-Leste2
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2021/Ceu
Ernizia is removing stones and mud from the house in Becora.

Down the road, brown dust swirls in the air as other youth, wearing scarves to protect themselves from the dust, clear debris from drains and waterways and help community members recover items that were swept away by the flood waters. Similarly, hundreds of other adolescents and youth are taking part in civic actions across Dili. 

Dozens of other young girls and boys set up makeshift fireplaces in yards and cooked food in large cauldrons for their friends and youth group members who were taking part in clearing of debris and cleaning. 

“I feel empowered doing this, and I am so happy about the volunteerism that we have all shown. Its powerful and I want to use this opportunity to join other youth and help communities,” said 23-year-old D’No Belo Serão, a member of the Rotaract Club of Dili. 
All of these efforts were coordinated by a Youth Action Posku.

One of the Vice Coordinators of the Youth Action Posku, Zaulino Gomes da Silva, explained that the youth action network (Youth Action Posku) was established within two days of the devastating floods by the Secretary State for Youth and Sport (SSYS) to help coordinate flood response efforts by youth. The many volunteers, and organizations they belonged to, came onboard quickly, and all actions were coordinated through the Youth Action Posku which had seven divisions focusing on logistics, assessment, management administration and finance, counselling and animation, communication and resource mobilization.

“The intention was to set up a coordinated approach to supporting families who were badly affected by the flood to recover, return home and continue their daily activities,” says Gomes da Silva. 

Several youth groups and organizations took part in the flood recovery effort, including the Alumni Association of Youth Parliament (Alumni Parlamentu Foinsa’e Timor-Leste (APFTL)) , Red Cross Organization Timor-Leste (Cruz Vermelha Timor-Leste (CVTL), Youth Loves Nature (Juventude Hadomi Natureza (JHN)), National Union Scouts of Timor-Leste (União Nacional Escuteiro Timor-Leste (UNETL)), Rotaract Club of Dili (RCD), Association of People with Disabilities Timor-Leste (Asosiasaun Difisiente Timor-Leste (ADTL)), Comoro Youth Center (Centro Juventude Comoro), Becora Youth Center (Centro Juventude Becora), Student Loves Nature (Estudante Hadomi Natureza (ESHANA UNTL)), martial art groups such as Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate (PSHT), Ikatan Kera Sakti (IKS), and a number of other groups. 

Young people at the forefront of flood-recovery efforts in Timor-Leste3
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2021/Ceu
Youth groups are in line to passing stones, mud and sand from the house which caused by floods.

UNICEF has supported the Youth Action Posku with various supplies, including personal protective equipment against COVID-19, cleaning kits to enable the youth to help vulnerable families with the cleanup, and non-food items (NFIs) for at least 100 vulnerable families, including toys, child clothes and hygiene products. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme (WFP) and several other organizations and private sector have contributed relief items to support these efforts.

“The help of the young people has meant a lot. We would not be able to clean up all of this on our own. They have lightened our suffering,” said Antoninho. 

The Youth Action Posku has been so successful in coordinating civic action by youth that SSYS is now planning to continue the initiative, not just for flood response, but on other civic actions in which youth could support government.