Many Timorese children and parents struggle with the most basic requirements of life – food and water. In Timor Leste, the mortality rate among children under 5 is one of the worst in the world.
The numbers are staggering: one in 16 children will die before they reach the age of 5.
Often children die from preventable diseases, such as diarrhea, respiratory infections, and malaria. Even though Timor Leste has managed to reduce the mortality rate of children under 5 by 70 percent since 1990, there is still a lot to be done.
“Although our volunteers teach parents about good hygiene, we still lose children due to diseases,” said Plan International Education Manager Dilliyana Ximenes. “In the villages, there are still things to be developed. Animals are often too close to the houses or they even sleep inside the house. There are no toilets or they have been built too close to the houses. There are no roads or communication links, so without us it is difficult for the parents to get information.”
One of the main causes of the high mortality rate among children is malnutrition. As many as 40 percent of children suffer from growth disorders caused by poor diet, which makes children even more susceptible to diseases.
“During the rainy season families can harvest crops, but the dry season is difficult for poor families,” Ximenes said. “They must buy all their food, so their diet becomes poorer and families struggle to feed their children.”
Miranda points happily to the side of her tidy garden.
“There it is,” she smiles.
Picking up a water canister, Miranda walks across the garden to the water pump that Plan International built. A couple of pumps and the canister is filled with clean water.
“The water pump has changed my life,” she said. “It has helped my family so much.”
35-year-old Miranda’s life has not been easy. Her husband died 11 years ago when her children were 2, 3, 5, and 8 years old. The second youngest of her children is disabled and needs special care.
“Life is difficult for women,” she said. “Fortunately, it is a bit easier now, because the children are older, but when they were small…I did not know how I would manage.”
With four young children, collecting water was difficult. She had to walk for long distances several times a day, which took her away from her children. As soon as her daughters were old enough, fetching water became their responsibility.
“I cannot describe how much the water pump has helped our family,” she said. “I now have more time to earn a living for my family and my daughters have time to study. It is easier for the children to wash and keep themselves clean. They have been much healthier than before. Before, the children were often sick, but clean water has helped the whole family to stay healthy.”
The water pump, which is available for the whole village, has also brought Miranda some much needed additional income, as she is now able to maintain a kitchen garden and sell some of the vegetables she grows. Her children’s diet has also improved, thanks to the increased crop yields.
“My life has a single goal,” she said. “I want all my children to have a good future, better than I had. Therefore I have to work hard. Thanks to the water pump, I now have more time for my family.”