“It’s very difficult … We are not strong anymore because we do not eat.”
Maria was emotional as she shared her story. After years of punishing weather in the dry, dusty mountains of Oecusse, life has become unbearably hard for her family.
Her husband José explains, “It hasn’t rained enough since 2012 up until now.”
Rain-fed subsistence farming is the lifeblood of Timor-Leste. But after years of unpredictable weather, people are struggling to grow enough food to eat and trade.
This year, Maria and her family harvested barely enough food to last for three months. And so they must survive on one small serving of rice a day until the next harvest — more than six months away.
“My biggest worry is about food,” Maria says. “If we have no food, I don’t know, maybe we will always be hungry and die.”
For Maria and her family, the days are clouded by uncertainty and debilitating hunger. As their rations thin, her youngest daughter is immobilised by fatigue.
“I’ve been home from school for five weeks,” says 11-year-old Julmira.
“If I don’t go to school, I just sleep. I only wake up sometimes because I have no energy — I cannot wake up, I just sleep.”
“Here in Cunha, it is difficult to study and difficult to find rice.”
“I feel sad, but what can I do? I have no money, I have no food, and I have no dress — so I have to stay home.”
With the strain of unrelenting poverty written on her face, Maria says, “When my children come to me, they cry, cry, cry. But what can I do? I have no money and I have no food.”
As food grows dangerously scarce, the family is overwrought with sheer exhaustion.
Maria says, “Strong, yes I am strong woman. But how can I stand? How can I wake up?”
“If the children can’t eat, they will not go to school because they cannot walk — they have no energy.”
Our neighbours are facing the challenge of a lifetime — and we are right there beside them. Through the generosity of our supporters, Oxfam is on the ground in Timor-Leste, working against time to help vulnerable communities survive this imminent hunger crisis.
With your support, we can give families like Maria’s the vital training and resources they need to grow drought-resistant crops that suit their changing climate.
Photos: Kate Bensen/OxfamAUS and Vlad Sokhim/OxfamAUS
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