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Timor-Leste water and food programs

Siktus Harson and Thomas Ora |  09 May 2018

Access to clean water and sanitation is difficult for many Timorese, particularly for those living in rural areas.

To help address this, Jesuit Social Service (JSS) have built ten water towers that benefit more than 2,000 people.

With the help of donors, such as Catholic Mission Australia, Jesuit Mission Australia, Jesuit Mission Austria, Bank Mandiri and private individuals, JSS will build another five this year and five more in 2019.Jesuits are also on the ground dealing with problems related to malnutrition. Among efforts to help beat this scourge is the Bairo Pite Clinic in Dili — which treats at least 300 undernourished children every year — and a local Jesuit-run feeding program.According to the World Food Program more than 50 percent of children between 6 months to 5 years old in the country suffer chronic malnutrition.

For decades, people from Urmera in Timor-Leste's Liquica district used to wake early each morning and then walk four kilometers up a hill to collect water and walk back down again.

They had to compete with hundreds of other villagers to reach two old wells sunk during the Indonesian occupation. More often than not when they got there they had to wait in a long queue before they could draw their water.

Domingos da Silva was one of them. The 67-year-old used to wake up at 5 a.m. and push a cart filled with water containers up the hill and do the same in the afternoon.

That all ended in October 2016 thanks to a project initiated by the Jesuit Social Service (JSS) which brought clean water literally to his door step.

About 40 families in Da Silva's village have benefited from this project.

"We waited for this for so long. It was a huge weight off our shoulders. Now we don't have to worry about water for cooking, drinking, washing or our crops," Da Silva says.

"Now I have time and energy for other important things, such as how to get more money for my family," he says.

Money is tight as he has to pay for his son's education at St. Ignatius of Loyola college in Kasait, about 15 kilometers west of Dili.

Now each day Da Silva sells firewood. He also sells corn and other vegetables, sometimes in the local market, sometimes from door to door.

For Izelda de Espiritu Santo and her family the water project was also a life changer. 

"The day the water supply was turned on in the village was one of the happiest moments of my long life," said Santo.

She said she and her 12 children used to take it in turns to fetch water.

"Water is no longer a problem. But what we worry more about now is [how to meet] daily needs," she said.

They have crops but prolonged drought means her family have been unable to rely on farming to provide a regular income, which she says is why her elderly husband still has to work for a poultry company in Dili.

Marselinus Oki, an engineer employed by the Jesuits for the water project, said the people cannot thank the Jesuits enough for what they say is a major milestone in their lives. The excitement was so great almost every phase of the project was celebrated, he said.

"When we were about to drill the wells the people gathered to pray for success. When the water came, they were so overjoyed, thanking God for giving them water at long last," he said.




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