In a pre-school classroom in a village in mountainous Ainaro municipality, five-year-old Jaimito quietly turns pages in a brightly-coloured alphabet book. Jaimito is one of the school’s very first students, and says he enjoys learning so much he sometimes writes what he learns on his arms to tell his siblings about it at home.
Jamito’s situation is unusual.
According to research conducted in 2013 by Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Education, just one in four pre-school-aged children in the country is actually enrolled in pre-school, and the country’s mountainous, isolating topography means families in remote areas like Jamito’s home often miss out.
Communities often lack the materials and funding required to construct school buildings, and isolated villages in the country’s rocky centre mean thousands of children cannot get to school – missing out in crucial early opportunities for learning, play and development.
“I have visited many places and saw that many children are still wandering around and have inadequate access to the centre,” says Wilson, the chief of Jamito’s village. Wilson today officially opened the pre-school building, which was built by the community with technical support provided by Plan International Timor-Leste and funds from Hirose Tusyo Inc.
The pre-school will host 24 students, who practice reading and writing, look through books and posters, and play with toys in the clean, airy building. Hirose Tusyo Inc has supported the construction of a toilet block, with private stalls for boys and girls, ensuring children practice proper hygiene and protect themselves from diseases that could interrupt their development.
“It is our responsibility to take care of this centre, and to give opportunities for our children to learn and explore their childhood."
The pre-school is staffed by two enthusiastic young teachers, who gathered Jaimito and his classmates together for a demonstration lesson before their proud, smiling parents.
“It is our responsibility to take care of this centre, and to give opportunities for our children to learn and explore their childhood,” says Leonito, a parent, who says he is proud to have the school in the community.
With their community’s commitment, students like Jaimito now have access to education and support that would have otherwise escaped them – and thousands more children in his village will follow his lead.