Her name, Esperanca, means hope — and hope is what keeps her family going after years of harsh, dry weather in Oecusse, Timor-Leste.
Food and water are very hard to find in their village, Bobometo. The tap by their home has been dry for three years and the closest spring is hours away.
Esperanca’s mother Balbina says, “I can’t remember when it last rained. It was maybe about three years ago since we had good rains.”
Food has become dangerously scarce in these dry conditions so the family often goes without. Some days, Esperanca refuses to go to school.
“If she’s hungry, it’s hard for her,” her mother explains.
Esperanca is not the only child in Timor-Leste whose education is suffering as the food crisis deepens. In a nearby village, young Julmira struggles to continue her studies.
This year, Julmira’s family harvested barely enough food to last for three months. And so they must survive on just one meal a day until the next harvest.
“We are not strong anymore because we do not eat,” says Julmira’s mother Maria. “Julmira comes to ask me for food but there is none.”
Julmira wants to be a teacher one day, but hunger clouds her hopes for the future.
“I really want to go to school but I have no uniform, I have no book or even a pen,” the 11-year-old explains.
“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.”
Reluctantly, Maria agrees, “She cannot go to school because … we have no food.”
“If I don’t go to school, I just sleep,” Julmira says. “I only wake up sometimes because I have no energy — I cannot wake up, I just sleep.”
At a time of life when she should be filled with life, Julmira is tired and depleted. And sadly, her predicament is not uncommon in Timor-Leste.
She says, “Lots of children my age are like this.”
And the latest Global Hunger Index confirms Julmira’s account. The prevalence of child stunting in the region is alarmingly high — Timor-Leste is one of the three worst-affected countries in the world. More than 50% of children under the age of five have low height for their age, which is a sign of chronic undernutrition.
Oxfam is on the ground in Timor-Leste, working with vulnerable communities to find lasting solutions for poverty and hunger. With your support, we can give hungry families the vital skills and resources they need to grow drought-resistant crops that suit their changing climate.
Please donate today to help our neighbours in Timor-Leste combat hunger.
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Photos: Kate Bensen/OxfamAUS and Vlad Sokhim/OxfamAUS