April 25, ANZAC Day marks the day in 1915 during the First World War when New Zealand, Australian and Allied soldiers landed on the shores of Gallipoli in Turkey. It is recognised because of its terrible sacrifice and because it was a time in which New Zealanders forged a national identity, where we realised we could take pride in our contribution in the world.

It seems fitting then to highlight the legacy of New Zealand’s involvement in Timor-Leste. It was New Zealand and Australian defence forces that helped secure the peace that would allow Timor-Leste to officially gain its independence in 2002 after many years of conflict. It was these forces along with the Police Forces from New Zealand and other countries that would continue to provide security and stability from 2006 to 2012.

Kiwi Commander with a pre-school student

Now Timor-Leste is looking to stand on its own feet with much less support from the international community. It wants to self-govern fully and make its own decisions rather than rely on others to come in and do the work.

In December 2012, the UN Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) and the peacekeeping forces withdrew after 13 years. However the New Zealand Defence Force and the NZ Police are continuing to support the Timorese through mentoring partnerships.

This period is an important juncture for Timor-Leste as a nation that has hit its ‘teenage’ years. The support from New Zealand, Australia and other countries has been essential to ensuring peace that has enabled self-government. Now it’s time to ensure that the Timorese people have the skills and strategies to develop a peaceful and prosperous society.

During the past decade individual New Zealanders and the New Zealand Government have been supporting Timorese communities through ChildFund providing funds to help improve children’s access to clean water, education, health and nutrition. Last year, the generous support of members of the New Zealand Police helped ChildFund to provide locally-made desks and chairs for a preschool in Leotala.

Kiwi Police Officer takes time out with children

In a country where nearly 60 per cent of children under the age of five are malnourished, New Zealand support is still necessary but the focus is on a self-sustainable future.

Over the past two years, ChildFund New Zealand has been working with the community to get clean safe drinking water to 2,000 households and 20 schools, and has been also helping families to build toilets. The focus on water and sanitation has seen a dramatic drop in the number of children suffering from water-borne diseases.

In one example of the far-reaching success that ChildFund’s work is having in Timor-Leste ChildFund has also helped the community make the most of its opportunities. The Timor-Leste Government dug out fish farming lakes in Ogues. The water provided through the ChildFund project supplied enough extra water to support the fish farms. Along with additional training for families in business skills, the community farms fish for food and income and people come from miles around to buy their fish.

One of the nation’s biggest challenges is the proportion of youth who lack education and skills. Around half of the population are under the age of 18. Large numbers of unemployed youth can be a volatile recipe in a country still finding its feet. For disaffected youth there is a strong attraction to so-called martial arts groups which are effectively youth gangs.

The challenge is to educate and train young people with livelihood skills, to empower them with leadership skills and to prepare them to be engaged democratic citizens. The Timorese Government is working towards this with its own initiatives but needs support. It has developed Youth Councils but they are still in their infancy. ChildFund is stepping up to work with 17-24 year olds and in one project area is currently supporting training apprenticeships.

Young woman in training as seamstress

New Zealand as a nation has come along way in the almost 100 years since Gallipoli. Our legacy in Timor-Leste is a shining example of how much we have gained and how we are sharing it with the world.

ChildFund Timor-Leste

ChildFund has worked in the area since 1990 when Timor-Leste was a part of Indonesia. ChildFund New Zealand has worked in close partnership with communities since 2006, with Kiwis now sponsoring around 1,800 children in Timor-Leste.

To support ChildFund’s work in Timor-Leste sponsor a child.

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