NGOs > East Timor
The first thing that strikes you when entering downtown Dilli, is the military and law enforcement presence. UN helicopters and signature white Land Cruisers join a crusade of Australian Army, Portuguese Police, East Timorese Police and Non Government Organisations. Declaring independence from Portugal in 1975 and invaded a year later from Indonesia it continues to suffer the ‘after-effects’ of a decade-long independence struggle. This has damaged infrastructure and displaced thousands of civilians.
A long day of travelling through spectacular, steep rugged terrain on dirt roads riddled with deep potholes lands me and the CARE team in the small village of Uat. A sea of women and children smiling broadly and shaking our hands greets us. They have come far and wide, gathering to take part in CARE hygiene education activities -working alongside a local NGO as part of the Integrated Rural Development Project.
CARE place a lot of emphasis on training the Timorese NGO staff who today educate families and hand out hygiene kits containing a towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, nail clippers and cotton buds. Every child under five years of age will receive a kit today, part of a larger project that will see 2,300 kits distributed over the next two months. Akita, one of the mothers tells us that her children have never owned toothbrushes before but will start to use them after today’s session, along with the other hygiene items she will be teaching them to use.
This will help the family prevent diarrhea and other illnesses that contribute to the high rate of child mortality in Timor-Leste. This, in combination with the nutrition education they receive, should mean that Akita’s children will have healthier childhoods and enter adulthood better equipped to ensure the health of future generations of villagers. As I come back to Dilli I think about how a simple toothbrush and some education is saving lives as much as all the manpower, artillery and machinery that we drive past on the way to our hotel.