Sara was born in the Indonesian side of the border dividing Indonesia and Timor-Leste. At just two years old she became an orphan. With no other direct family on hand like siblings, paternal or maternal grandparents, her uncle became her primary caregiver. At the age of ten, her uncle gave her away to a Timorese man in Oecusse, Timor-Leste as a form of payment to settle a debt between her uncle and the man. The man illegally took her to Timor-Leste to live in his household. Growing up in that household, she was forced to do chores, such as cooking, washing, cleaning. She also suffered countless verbal and physical abuse by the individuals in the household when she did not follow their instructions and when they were dissatisfied with her work. After approximately five years of living with them, unhappy and fatigued, she found her way to FOKUPERS shelter house (Forum Komunikasaun Ba Feto Timor Loro Sa’e or Communication Forum for Timorese Women) in Dili in 2016 with no formal form of identification. She has been living there ever since. She is now eighteen.
On the 8th of May, 2019, Sara had the chance to share her life experience with a group of Norwegian officials during their visit to Timor-Leste. In their packed and short official trip, Hivos and FOKUPERS were able to organize a visit to FOKUPERS’ day care center and shelter house for the delegation to witness and experience in-person the impact of their support to the local community. The survivors at the shelter house welcomed Her Excellency Ms. Marianne Hagen, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, His Excellency Mr. Vegard Kaale, the Ambassador of Norway to Indonesia and Timor-Leste, and their delegation, with a ceremonial dance and drums performance. After hearing the survivors’ stories of the past struggles, abuses, and the journeys before they sought refuge in FOKUPERS shelter, HE Ms. Hagen commended the survivors on being strong women and great role models for their children. She added, “We will do all that we can to push the agenda of domestic violence to your State and continue supporting organizations that help survivors like you”.
FOKUPERS’ Support for Women Survivors
Currently Sara is one of the seventeen women survivors living in the shelter house in Dili. FOKUPERS manages one other shelter in Maliana and a transit house in Covalina. In 2018, FOKUPERS was able to provide assistance and support to 272 women victims and their dependents through trauma healing counseling, non-formal education, and life-skills training. Their focus is to ensure that the women survivors have the skills, and self-confidence in making social and economic life decisions and are eventually re-integrated back into their communities. Twenty-three women survivors of domestic and sexual violence also received small funding support and are now economically independent from establishing and running their own small-scale enterprises are now economically independent from establishing and running their own small-scale enterprises.
FOKUPERS also operates a day care center in Dili for children aged two to five years of FOKUPERS staff, single mothers, and domestic and sexual violence survivors. The purpose of this day care center is to offer non-violent and gender sensitive education for children while providing a chance for staff and single mothers to work and survivors to heal. Where there was once space for only 35 children, through the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, FOKUPERS was able to construct an even larger day care center that has room for 84 children. During their visit to Dili, the Norwegian delegation also had the chance to visit the day-care center and were welcomed by the children with several Norwegian songs.
When asked what her dream was, Sara simply said, “To get an education” – something very basic that we sometimes take for granted. Indeed, education is a basic right that every individual should have access to. Together, we must continue to acknowledge the basic rights of survivors and ensure that these rights are accessible just like for any other individual.
“To get an education”
We are so grateful for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs of their support and commitment to help women survivors like Sara and hopefully put an end to the cycle of violence in Timor-Leste.
To learn more about FOKUPERS and their work, please visit https://fokupers.org/ or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Civil Society and Governance in Timor-Leste project, please contact Edrieno Sutarjadi at email@example.com.