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Gender and disability - no obstacle to education!

After generations had their education disrupted by conflict Plan International are ensuring girls and young people are offered equal opportunities to learn.

In the Comoro area, on the outskirts of the capital Dili, a group of 32 young people from rural, disadvantaged, backgrounds, are receiving vocational training at the Don Bosco Centre. Gaining skills they can take back to their communities to get jobs.

Technical training at Don Bosco Centre.
Technical training at Don Bosco Centre.

The centre is supported by a partnership of Plan International, Australian Aid (DFAT) and the European Union. It currently offers diplomas in general construction including electrics, welding, carpentry, masonry, mechanics, plumbing and administration. Each year the Don Bosco Centre takes around 100 new students aged 17 to 35, with 32 of these paid for by Plan International.

This is the third year Plan International have funded students at the centre. In 2016 18 male and 14 female students were selected based on educational ability, need and commitment. The young people selected often face serious difficulties related to gender and disability.

Of the 64 young people taken on over the last two years 63 have gone on to graduate gaining new skills which set them up for the next phase of their lives.

Here are some examples of students set to graduate this year.

Etevina with her friends
Etevina with her friends

Etevina is 21 and from Maubisse, a mountainous town in Timor-Leste’s rural interior. She lost both her parents at a young age and had to help her sister run a kiosk to pay for her school fees. When she was offered a training place at the Don Bosco Centre she jumped at the chance.

I’m looking forward to going back to my village so they can see women can do work like men.

On the course Etevina's been learning about electronics as well as helping to build a house. Next term she's due to specialise in masonry and receive on the job training at the FIKLI company in Dili. When the training’s completed, she told Plan International staff "I’m looking forward to going back to my village so they can see women can do work like men." 

Orlandino at work
Orlandino at work

22 years old Orlandino is from Aileu where his mother and father died when he was young. Orlandino had problems in his home village partly because he suffers from a speech impediment. But at the Don Bosco Centre, Orlandino told Plan International staff he found a positive environment to study in.

My friends and teachers allow me time to speak and accept my speech difficulties.

He’s looking forward to graduating in December and using the skills he’s developed to look for a job in a small business. He’s already enrolled to do some shadowing at FIKLI, a construction company in Dili.

He told Plan International staff that he’d like to see Timor-Leste develop more opportunities for young people, as young people are the future of the country.

Cipriano in the workshop at the Don Bosco Centre
Cipriano in the workshop at the Don Bosco Centre

Cipriano, 25, is from a large subsistence farming family in Aileu district of Timor-Leste. He has 7 brothers and 4 sisters. Of these only 4 moved beyond primary school to continue studying.

He is training as an electrician, as well as in canalisation and general construction. Of these his favorite job is welding. But Cipriano suffers from a spinal injury that developed after an illness when he was 9. This affects movement in his legs and means welding is too dangerous so he’s decided to specialise in canalisation.

I’ve seen that women do jobs I’ve only ever seen done by men. They do technical jobs, not just working at home and in the fields.

He likes studying at the Don Bosco Centre because people there don’t treat him any differently to anyone else, despite his disability. He’s made lots of friends at the centre and says that the experience has helped to build his confidence.

He told Plan International staff that there is opportunity for all at the centre, whatever your gender or ability. He said that the training shows that girls and disabled young people can make a contribution too.

After graduating Cipriano hopes to get work at a construction company and already has a place at SAS Aileu, the water and sanitation service, to an apprenticeship.

Don Bosco's head boy.
Don Bosco's head boy.

Elvis, 20, is the 7th of a family of 10. His parents were uneducated and his father is dead. His mum works as a farmer in a rural district of Timor-Leste.

Elvis has special duties at the Don Bosco Centre as he’s the head boy. His responsibilities include organising students from the different districts to attend public speaking training also organised by Plan International.

He’s very interested in education and politics and thinks that education is the key to Timor-Leste’s development.

Elvis told Plan International staff that many young people face significant challenges in Timor-Leste. Some have been abandoned, have lost their parents and can’t find jobs. There are opportunities but they don’t know about them, or don’t have the self-confidence to take them. They are encouraged to participate but they lack education. Many young people criticise and have a negative outlook because they feel excluded. Some young people don’t understand what’s available, the opportunities offered by government and NGOs like Plan International. 

I've seen that girls and people with disabilies can make a contribution too.

Plan International Timor-Leste hope that with the training and support provided at the Don Bosco centre young women like Etevina, and men like Orlandino, Elvis and Cipriano will play a vital role in building Timor-Leste’s future.

We wish all the students at Don Bosco the very best in their studies and look forward to their successful graduation.