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Keeping Children Healthy in Timor-Leste

Anabelita carries her three-year-old daughter Joaninha carefully in her arms. As she makes her way to a community pre-school run by Plan International, she passes by dozens of colourful blocks.

Anabelita brings Joaninha to the centre to learn about colours and numbers whenever it is open. Her daughter means everything to Anabelita as she is her only surviving child.

I’m happy, because I can help my daughter to prepare for the future.

At the beginning of April, the rainy season in Timor Leste is coming to an end. The leaves in the trees grow dark green and small streams meander down the steep mountainsides. In a few months, the landscape will change completely when the dry season begins.

The streams will dry out, the leaves of trees will turn brown and the earth in the fields will crack. Children will have to dig deeper and deeper to source water from muddy holes and the water will become dirtier.

It was contaminated water that led to the death of Anabelita’s first daughter. “My daughter got diarrhoea when she was nine months old. I noticed that she was sick. I tried to nurse her and carried her everywhere in my arms.” 

After five days of illness, her daughter suddenly went limp in Anabelita’s arms. She called an ambulance, but it was too late. Her daughter died on the way to the hospital. “I was shocked and distressed. It was very difficult.”

Mothers in the community rallied round to support and console Anabelita. They understood her sorrow, because many of them had also lost their young children due to diarrhoea or other preventable childhood diseases.

When Plan International’s community pre-school was opened in Anabelita’s village, she was able to take part in educational meetings for parents. There she learnt that she should have taken her sick daughter to hospital as soon as she fell ill. She also learnt that just boiling drinking water is not enough, it is also necessary to wash hands frequently, boil all water for household use and build their toilet farther away from the house.

Children learning how to wash their hands at a community pre-school.

“At the community pre-schools, community volunteers explain to the parents that they should not wait too long with a sick child before going to the hospital. Often parents wait for several days before taking the child to the clinic, and by then it can be too late”, explains Maria Beatriz Samento, who is in charge of the early childhood education centre.

Anabelita is now determined that none of her surviving children will experience the same fate as her first daughter. She now knows how to safeguard the lives of her children and safeguard their future.