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Keeping youth off the streets - Kiwi Aid Worker

Keeping youth off the streets next big focus in Dili

A New Zealand aid worker with development agency ChildFund who has just returned from East Timor says one of the key goals now is to keep youth off the streets and out of trouble.

Waiheke Island resident Sarah Walker has spent three weeks in the capital, Dili, and outlying areas helping with the emergency response and as well as visiting a number of ongoing long term development projects ChildFund manages. She says one of the most obvious problems that need addressing now is the large population of youth who are at risk of joining gangs and being exposed to violence on the streets.

“You see children as young as 10 on the trucks driving past – they are being drawn into political activity without really knowing what they are getting into. They are more socially driven than politically involved - for them it’s just something to do,” says Sarah.

More than three months after the violence swept through Dili, 75,000 people remain in the IDP (internally displaced person) camps too scared to sleep at home. A disproportionate number of those living in the camps are youth aged from 15 -25.

“These children and youth have had an interrupted education, they have witnessed violence and disorder and there are very few job opportunities for them. It is very easy for them to get caught up in the trouble,” says Sarah.

ChildFund is now focusing on addressing the problem by establishing a series of youth clubs to engage youth and harness their skills into positive activities for the community. ChildFund is adapting its signature concept of ‘Child Centred Spaces’ to make it appropriate for the 13 - 18 age group, including developing ways that youth can be involved in decision making and activities that will benefit the whole community.

ChildFund already has 20 of its specialist Child Centred Spaces throughout the IDP camps of East Timor, delivering psycho-social support to 8,000 children and their families. Child Centred Spaces provide safe havens for children to be children again, a place where they can learn, play and recover.

Sarah says, “At the youth clubs the emphasis will be on reducing the vulnerability or powerlessness of youth. They will be invited to get involved in activities that will solve problems in their communities, for example non violent conflict resolution, the prevention of violence at home and also life skills such as hygiene promotion. We aim to have 2,000 youths involved in our clubs over the next three months.”

“As schools in Dili are only just starting to open again, the Child Centred Spaces have been a place where children can spend the day and parents can know they are safe. The concept has been so successful we have been working with UNICEF and other NGOs to demonstrate to them the child protection and education based activities we use.”

ChildFund recently sent over $125,000 to Dili, including a $75,000 grant received from NZAID, the New Zealand government’s Agency for International Development, to help fund the emergency response effort, but more public donations are needed. Donations can be made by calling 0800 223 111 or by visiting www.childfund.org.nz


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