Subject: Irish Times: Concern advances Timor hygiene, health

May 29th, 2002. Irish Times: Concern advances Timor hygiene, health

From David Shanks, In Lospalos

EAST TIMOR: As a trip to the eastern end of East Timor showed yesterday, a programme to build school latrines has run into a "psychological" problem.

Forty such schemes have been completed in the new country by Concern Worldwide, the Irish aid agency. However, the use and maintenance of them has been hit and miss.

Patient thought is now been given to the next stage of this €774,000 project - education in health and hygiene.

"Some children have never seen a toilet," said Mr David Storey, Concern's acting director in East Timor.

Unlike the area near the capital Dili, where the rivers beds are powder-dry in this season, in the Lospalos region there are a few inches of water.

Along the road from the capital, the eucalyptus-clad mountains give way to flatter land, subsistence rice fields and more craggy highlands in the interior.

Yet for all its poverty, the greener east is relatively prosperous. One distinguishing feature from Dili, said Mr Crawford Hunt of Concern, is that a wife here costs $100 compared to $20.

Yet in the regional capital of Lospalos there is only one doctor for a population of some 30,000. Power lines dangling from wooden poles bear testimony to the desire of the Indonesian military or its militias to hobble Asia's poorest country, before leaving it to be independent in September 1999.

Yet in a move beyond the emergency aid which it began after September 1999, Concern plans to get involved in an advocacy programme. It wants to help rural people to go to Dili to push for decentralisation.

However, so far the signs from government are that it favours centralisation. Other plans include food security and disaster preparedness projects.

These plans will cost €1.6million over three years and Mr Storey is hoping that Ireland Aid might come up with half. He complained of lack of Government support in the past, saying GOAL, the other Irish agency in East Timor, had attracted more support.

Concern, which has eight expatriate and 100 local staff in East Timor, has built 20 of the primary school latrines in the Lospalos area and another 20 in Maubisse, a mountain town about 70 km south of Dili.

The purpose is to prevent water-related diseases and to get rid of "stagnant water that attracts mosquitoes and other nasty stuff", said Ms Giselle Rouquié, Concern's technical programme manager.

A Concern worker yesterday asked the headmaster, "why are they (the latrines) locked?" He was told there was a problem with the septic tanks. But a link is being made between sustainability and the training of teachers in health and hygiene.

Mr Storey said Concern was trying to fulfil a need but latrines were "not on the priority list of the people". He said one problem is that what took years in, say, Tanzania is being done in one in East Timor.

Concern also runs a project involving women's groups, which meet in centres built by the aid agency. These have small businesses, making fabrics like the traditional cotton tais, whose colours come from natural dyes. They also try to get women to express their aspirations in a male-dominated society.

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