A scheme supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) seeks to help needy households – mostly headed by poor single mothers – send their children to school and receive health care.
UNDP is providing technical support to the fledgling nation's Ministry of Social Solidarity for its Conditional Cash Transfers programme, which aims to end inter-generational poverty and protect the vulnerable by incentivizing families to improve their education levels and economic situations.
Ten employees from the Ministry will interview members of 500 households in under one week on the composition of their families, the livestock and crops they own, their education, employment, languages spoken, vaccinations received and the distance from their homes to schools and health clinics.
“The point of this survey is to establish how people survive through the level of vulnerability they find themselves in, how we can best support them and to what extent they are dependent on other people, or the state, to live,” said Alexandre Sarmento, a national consultant to the UNDP project.
Interviewers met a girl, who may have slipped under the radar. Her family and neighbours say she is 8 years old, but her age cannot be verified since she does not have a birth certificate.
The mother of a four-year-old daughter, the girl lives with her parents and two siblings in an isolated area of Timor-Leste which is completely cut off from civilization for half of the year due to flooding. Even in the dry season, it takes up to three hours to walk to the nearest secondary school, health clinic and market.
Her family owns no livestock and survives entirely on the local palm trees, from which they make palm wine to sell in the market. Her parents are illiterate and speak only Baiqueno, a local language.
Veronica Das Dores works at MSS and is one of the interviewers conducting this survey.
“In the last two days I have encountered many stories of people who have been forgotten by society,” said Veronica Das Dores, who works at the Ministry of Social Solidarity and is one of the interviewers carrying out the survey.
“We have found examples of elderly people who aren't receiving the correct pension payment, children who aren't receiving enough protection, and numerous cases of chronic generational poverty,” she added. “These issues cannot be solved overnight, but we can try to strengthen the Conditional Cash Transfers scheme so that the most vulnerable people in our society are the beneficiaries.”
Timor-Leste, which the UN shepherded to independence in 2002, is among the poorest in Asia, with some one third of its population regularly experiencing food shortages. It ranks 162 out of 182 countries in UNDP's 2009 Human Development Index (HDI) report, the lowest among all Asian nations.