House in TimorMost people are aware that despite improvement in the last few years, nearly half of the Timorese population lives below the poverty line, in poor housing and without access to clean water and sanitation.

A recent program designed to address many of these problems in Timor-Leste was undertaken. New prefabricated houses were built and delivered to hundreds of villages, as a way of attending to the needs of the elderly and disabled, female-headed households and veterans of the resistance to Indonesian occupation. This plan was part of massive attempts to rebuild the Timorese infrastructure after the devastation of 1999.

Unfortunately, the program suffered from some basic problems. Imported rather than local materials were used, the communities were not engaged sufficiently in the decisions, and local workers and businesses needed to be involved to a greater extent. Despite facilities for solar energy, water and sanitation, most do not have access to a water source, so taps and toilets are unusable.

The house in the photograph, whilst made of tin and extremely basic, is not one of the houses described. This one was built by a young man for his family. It is lived in, and is a source of pride. Without a job, this man could not have built his house. He didn’t want a handout; he wanted a job. He, his family and his house have the chance to move on to better things.

The advice in the old saying is valuable for all of us: “If you give people fish, they can eat for a day; teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.”

ATLAS is concerned to keep programs close to the people and to depend on their maximum participation and advice, for example, the water project at ICR in Lahane, Dili. Your support and interest will help us.

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