Climate Change Adaptation & Covid-19 in Timor Leste

in addition to the constant threat of natural disasters, communities in Timor-Leste are adapting to the pervasive threat of Covid-19 & hoping to get children back to school

Timor-Leste is an island country in Southeast Asia with a population of over 1.3 million. Following decades of conflict, the country became a sovereign state in 2002. Plan International has been working in Timor-Leste since 2001, shortly before the country regained independence.

While progress has been made in many areas in Timor-Leste since 2002, challenges still remain in many aspects of life and in pursuit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the goal to Leave No One Behind.

Girls in Timor-Leste are a particularly vulnerable cohort. Physical, sexual and emotional violence are common and a patriarchal society limits opportunity for girls to participate meaningfully in decision-making.

In addition, Timor-Leste has one of the world’s highest rates of undernutrition and half of children under 5 in the country suffer from stunting. There is also a lack of clean water and only 14% of children are enrolled in pre-school.

Timor-Leste also suffers from numerous natural disasters. The country is prone to severe, frequent flooding, drought and landslides. On top of these serious events, people also have to contend with the risk of tropical cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis.

A core focus of Plan International in Timor-Leste is to strengthen the resilience of communities against natural disasters.

Strengthening the Capacity of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Climate Change Adaptation

The mountainous area of Aileu, where earthquakes are a big risk

Timor-Leste features among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world and is ranked as having the twelfth highest risk rating on the World Risk Index (2016). Already prone to earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, heavy rainfall and droughts, Timor-Leste’s climate vulnerability is worsened by high sensitivity and low adaptive capacity due to a combination of high poverty rates, high dependence on climate-sensitive livelihoods and increasing environmental degradation, as well as limited institutional capacity, technology and infrastructure.

With the risk of flood, drought, coastal inundation and disease set to increase under climate projections, there is an urgent need to improve the capacity of communities, local government and local development actors to better prepare for disasters and climate variability across all sectors of development.

Funded by European Union, Timor-Leste are currently implementing a project on Strengthening the Capacity of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Climate Change Adaptation.

The overall goal of this project is for CSOs to actively promote activities and policies, that are gender sensitive and socially inclusive, in order to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change in Timor-Leste. The action will contribute to the current efforts of the government in Timor-Leste in preparing for and coping with the impacts of natural disasters.

In line with the aims of the National Adaptation Programme of Action on Climate Change (NAPA), whose overarching vision is to make Timorese people more resilient to climate change, the project will contribute to creating a national framework for engaging CSOs, development partners and the public in a participatory process for responding to climate change to support sustainable development.

The action builds on learnings from Plan’s Child-Centred Climate Change Adaptation (4CA) programme currently being implemented in over 14 countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific, and which is centred on three key components: 

  • Awareness and education on Climate Change to build children’s adaptive capacity; 
  • Action through the participatory planning and implementation of community and school adaptation projects; and
  • Advocacy with government stakeholders to take children’s voices into account and their rights in Climate Change action.

Adapting activities in the context of Covid-19

On top of the constant threat of natural disasters, communities in Timor-Leste have now had to adapt their lives to the newer and extremely pervasive threat of Covid-19. 

On the 8th of September 2020, Plan International Timor-Leste (PITL) and its partner, RAEBIA, launched COVID-19 prevention activities in Aileu municipality under the European Union (EU) funded project on Strengthening the Capacity of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Climate Change Adaptation.

The event also included the launch of an audiovisual drama on Covid-19 prevention by the radio community, Rai Husar. Hygiene supplies were distributed to schools in Remexiu Administrative Post.

Suggestion boxes to collect feedback from the community were also installed in Acumau village and Catholic school, São Jose Operario, in Aileu municipality as a part of the project interventions.

The event was launched by the EU Ambassador to Timor-Leste, HE Mr. Andrew Jacobs, Country Director of PITL, Mrs. Dillyana Ximenes, the Administrator of Aileu Municipality, Remexiu Administrator, Representative of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in Aileu, chief of villages and its council members, school directors, teachers, and students from schools Remexiu and São Jose Operario.

The activity aims to encourage all community members, especially children, to continue healthy and preventative practices to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, so that they can get back into the education process as soon as possible

Conor Faughnan announced as new Chair of the Board; Aoife Kelly-Desmond is Vice-Chair

New Chair, Conor Faughnan, and Vice Chair, Aoife Kelly-Desmond reflect on their appointments


A veteran in public affairs, Mr. Faughnan has been involved with development and humanitarian organisation Plan International Ireland since 2013 

Plan International Ireland is a development and humanitarian organisation that supports projects on the ground in 54 countries to advance children’s rights and equality for girls. Following a meeting of the Board of Directors last weekthe organisation announced the appointment of Conor Faughnan as the new Chair of the Board of DirectorsAoife KellyDesmond of A&L Goodbody was announced as the new Vice-Chair.  

Mr. Faughnan is the current Director of Consumer Affairs with AA Ireland and a frequent commentator on transport, motoring, and consumer issues. He has been on the Board of Directors of Plan International Ireland since 2013, and has taken the role over from former Chair, Bernard Daly. His experience in advocacy and public affairs has proved extremely valuable during his tenure to date, particularly through his involvement on the Marketing and Fundraising sub-committee.  

Mr. Faughnan said it was an honour to have been elected to serve as Chair. Plan International Ireland is an organisation that is close to my heart and has been a part of my life for over 7 years. Our mission is clear: we strive for a just world where children’s rights are realised, and they can fulfil their potentialWe work with partners in development and humanitarian contexts in 54 countries to achieve this mission, and are part of a global federation operating across 76 countries. Many of our Irish supported projects are in West Africa, and we prioritise the provision of quality and inclusive education in much of our work. 

Reflecting on the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic on the charity’s workMr. Faughnan saidOf course, this year has been a very challenging time for all of us. However, the reality is that the pandemic is impacting people in some parts of the world more than othersAlways when crisis strikes, it is those who are already the most vulnerable and marginalised who are disproportionately affected.” 

As we all focus on the broader health and economic implications of the pandemic, a shadow pandemic is occurring across the world. Women and children, girls in particular, are at more risk than ever of gender-based violence, exploitation and harmful practices such as child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). We are working to end these practices that violate girls’ rights and strip them of their potential.”  

Mr. Faughnan concluded by saying: As we look to the future of the organisation, we will continue to respond to the immediate and longer-term needs of the communities where we work. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the board, and the staff team at Plan International Ireland, led by CEO Paul O’Brien, as we continue to endeavour to make our vision a reality for children around the world.”  

Aoife KellyDesmond, Associate at A&L Goodbody, was announced as the new Vice-Chair of Plan International IrelandMs. KellyDesmond has been on the Board of Directors since 2017 and has given additional support to the organisation through her role on the HR & Remuneration sub-committee.  

Following her appointment, Ms. KellyDesmond said: “I feel privileged to have been selected to serve in such an important role. It is a real source of pride for me to be involved in an organisation that is so wholeheartedly committed to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls across the world. Plan International Ireland has also been recognised for its commitment to good governance through shortlisting for the Good Governance Awards. Additionally, the organisation was listed as one of Ireland’s Best Workplaces in 2020.” 

International Day to Protect Education from Attack

On the first ever International Day to Protect Education from Attack, our Emergencies Officer, Stacey Dunne, and our Desk Officer, Deirdre Murray, reflect on the situations in Cameroon and Mali and how Plan International is working to support access to education in areas of conflict.

 Stacey Dunne, Emergencies Officer 

Deirdre Murray, Desk Officer (Development)

Following a decision by the UN General Assembly, the 9th of September 2020 marks the first ever International Day to Protect Education from Attack.

School should be a safe space for children and young people; a place where they can fulfil their potential, and build relationships, knowledge, and skills. The global Coronavirus pandemic left 1.6 billion children out of school in 2020 – while many are in the process of returning, some will never return to school. For many others it is not only the pandemic that has made school unsafe or that will prevent them from returning to education. It is the conflict that rages in several countries around the world which spills over into education settings, leaving children, teachers and other education personnel at vulnerable to attacks and violence.

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack released a report in 2020, Education Under Attack, which highlights attacks on educational institutions across 37 countries profiled between 2017 and 2019. The types of violence reported on include direct attacks on schools themselves, attacks on students and teachers, the military use of schools and universities and the recruitment or abuse of children in conflict settings either on their way or at school.

Two countries profiled in the report are Cameroon and Mali -Plan International Ireland supports education programmes in both of these countries. Below is an overview of the situation in each country, as well as the solutions proposed in the Safe Schools Declaration.


The conflict

For over 6 years now, Cameroon has been the second most affected country in the Lake Chad basin by internal conflict, violence, and insecurity spill over from the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. As a result of ongoing conflict in its neighbouring countries, Cameroon hosts over 291,000 refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) and almost 120,000 from Nigeria.

In the Far North, violence and insecurity linked to Boko Haram and counter-insurgency operations have caused internal and cross-border displacement, deteriorated socio-economic conditions, and led to widespread destruction of houses, infrastructure, roads, markets, health, and education facilities. 1.9 million people, almost half of the population of the region, need assistance in the Far North, where 74% of its population was already living below the poverty line prior to the incursion in 2014. The volatile security situation has restricted food access and availability by limiting agricultural activity, decreasing livelihood options, and weakening trade.

In late 2016, longstanding grievances in the Northwest and Southwest regions escalated into widespread protests. This has resulted in widespread internal violence and an increased number of Internally Displace People (IDPs). For a long time, the population of the Northwest & Southwest regions have held grievances concerning marginalisation by the Francophone-dominated government. These grievances, including planned changes to the school curriculum from English to French, led to wide-spread protests in October 2016 and in 2017. The situation escalated greatly when the Cameroonian security forces responded with force. This led to growing support in the region for independence from Cameroon as an English-speaking Republic of Ambazonia. On foot of this, the regions have seen an increase in clashes between the Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) and the Cameroonian security forces, with civilians caught in the middle.

Attacks on education

According to the Education Under Attack report, Cameroon had one of the highest incidences across the profiled countries of attacks on children and teachers. During the reporting period there was an increase in reported incidences of abductions and killings of teachers and students. Between 2017 and 2019, more than 700 students and education personnel were harmed in Cameroon.

Children attending school have been targeted and kidnapped for ransom and UNICEF reports that more than 1 million school-aged children remain out-of-school. Contributing to this number is a widely held belief that education is being used as a political propaganda tool. These out-of-school children are exposed to all forms of violence and are at risk of increased levels of trauma and vulnerability. Added to the complete breakdown of basic serves in the region, the number of displaced people continue to rise with high levels of protection and human rights concerns. The rate of severity of the crisis is demonstrated by regular regional lockdowns declared by the NSAGs, and the fact that school closures are entering their fourth year.

Plan International’s response

Stacey Dunne visiting with members of the school’s Mother’s Association in the Far North region of Cameroon. The ECHO Project in the area provided Education in Emergencies for crisis-affected children. Photo: Stacey Dunne / Plan International Ireland

Given the security constraints in the Northwest & Southwest regions, Plan International’s projects focus on Child Protection in Emergencies (CPiE) and Gender Based Violence (GBV) prevention and assistance for the vulnerable, displaced and host communities. Needs assessments conducted by Plan International in the regions identified significant Child Protection and GBV risks, and many abuses committed against children including attacks on children, attacks on schools, and forced recruitment of youths into non-state armed groups (NSAG).

Through the projects, Plan International contributes to increased access to a protective environment by providing Child Friendly Spaces with Psycho-Social Support, Case Management & referral services, contributes to strengthening the Community Based Child Protection mechanisms, prevention of and response to Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), in addition to access to basic Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH ) facilities in Child Friendly Spaces. Adolescents girls and women are also provided with life skills training including Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and awareness raising.

Where access allows, Plan International carries out numerous Education projects in the Far North, one project specifically targets beneficiaries in the Minawao refugee camp and the surrounding host communities. The Minawao Refugee Camp in the Far North was opened in 2013 and has a population of almost 70,000 individuals. As a result of the crisis and despite ongoing efforts their education has been disrupted and continues to experience a shortage of adequate schools, school kits, and teaching materials. For those in school, and due to various reasons, high levels of absenteeism in available schools is still a challenge.

Plan International continues to work with government institutions such as the Ministry of Employment and Vocational Training (MINEFOP) and Ministry of Basic Education (MINEDUB), to ensure all children ages 6-14 have access to quality and  inclusive education (formal and non-formal), that alternative education opportunities for young children (3-5), dropout/out of school adolescents and youth aged 15-24 are provided all within a safe protective and non-violent learning environment.



Like Cameroon, insecurity and fragility has increased in Mali in recent years, in contrast with the overall global trend of increasing security. Mali, a land locked country in West Africa, was one of the richest countries, home to great emperors whose wealth came mainly from the region’s position in the cross-Sahara trade routes between West Africa and the north. Today Mali is ranked by the UNDPs Human Development Index at 184 out of 189 countries, meaning that it is one of the poorest countries in the world.  Plan International Ireland supports educational programmes in the remote north of Mali in the Timbuktu region, which was subjected to an Al Qaida led insurgency and rule for a number of years.  More recently secular control has returned to the area, however radical groups are still in the area, leading to infrastructural degradation, displacement of people and general insecurity. Following a recent coup d’etat on 18 August, the country is now being run by a military junta.

Attacks on education

In northern, central and south-western Mali, there were reports during the 2017-2019 period of armed groups threatening teachers for using the secular curriculum in schools – this led to the closure of thousands of schools who feared violent repercussions. Many teachers were killed, and armed groups instilled fear in communities by looting and setting fire to schools.

Plan International’s response

Plan International provides class sets of school books and sports equipment for primary schools in Timbuktu. The project is supported by funding from Irish Aid. Photo: Deirdre Murray/ Plan International Ireland

Plan International supports the delivery of pre and primary school education to schools in the Timbuktu Region of Northern Mali.  Interestingly, the first university in the world was established in Timbuktu in the 10th century with a very rich literary output, including works covering the history of Africa and southern Europe, religion, mathematics, medicine and law. There were manuscripts detailing the movement of the stars, possible cures for malaria and remedies for menstrual pain. Today, the educational system is severely challenged, with many schools closed, others in poor conditions, and due to displacement, many children do not attend school. 

In 2017, 67% of its population was estimated to be under the age of 25. With such a high youth population, there is a considerable need for access to schools.  In many of the locations where Plan works there can be up to 100 children in a classroom, and the teachers have been trained in a methodology of teaching large classes, where the more academically able students are drawn on to support teaching.

What else are countries doing?

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political agreement which provides a blueprint for how best to protect education from attack and ensure that schools and education facilities are safe, positive spaces for children, young people and education personnel alike – even in times of conflict. The Declaration was opened for endorsement in Norway in 2015, and since then 104 States have signed on to the Declaration. Countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration must also ensure that its implementation is gender-sensitive, as girls and women are often affected differently and, as such, have different needs.

The gender-based violence survivor making her voice count

After being denied a university education by her family, enduring a forced and abusive marriage at the age of 17, and being forced from her home by Boko Haram insurgents, 24-year-old Aishatu’s experiences have fuelled her drive to fight for girls and women’s rights despite the COVID-19 crisis which has locked down large parts of Nigeria.

“The situation of women in North East Nigeria is bad, especially because they don’t have access to economic opportunities to make money for themselves. With COVID-19, this has worsened,” she says.

Photo credit: Plan International 

According to the UNFPA, up to 6 out of 10 women have reported experiencing one or more forms of gender-based violence in the North East, with a rise of 7.7% since the conflict with Boko Haram began. Stigma and fear of discrimination have led to a significant under-reporting of cases of gender-based violence, so the existing data may not be a true indicator of the number of cases.

Aishatu, who identifies herself first as a gender-based violence survivor, was displaced from her home in Borno state after it was attached by insurgents. Now living in another part of the region, she is a member of Plan International’s Girls Get Equal and founder of the Zenith support group, an organisation that advocates for the rights of girls and women in North East Nigeria.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown, Aishatu’s work as a gender equality activist has been hampered. Members of her organisation used to go into communities to meet with women and adolescent girls but that’s no longer possible. Instead they have found other ways to relay their messages.

“We use social media and radio to share helpline numbers for referral centres where women in Borno can access care and help if they are faced with violence,” she explains.

Aishatu first encountered Plan International through her gender-based violence voluntary work and in September 2018, she helped launch the #NoToTrafficking campaign. Since then, she has also become involved with the Girls Get Equal campaign and has taken part in various capacity building sessions.

“Because of the trainings, I am better able to identify the subtle ways I have contributed to trafficking in the past and stop it. I’m also able to reach out to younger girls with my new knowledge and skills and open up access for them to the things they are entitled to,” Aishatu explains.

“The young girls that I mentor identify better with me when I tell them that I’m a gender-based violence survivor and am internally displaced just like them. A lot of young girls reach out to me for mentorship because they are inspired by what I do, and they say that they want to be like me.”

Another benefit of her relationship with Plan International is the networking opportunities. “I have connected with fellow passionate advocates from the North East and we discuss issues and find ways to work together to further our cause which is enlightening and empowering adolescent girls and women against gender-based violence.”

“The results of my work have been greatly influenced by my relationship with Plan International. Before, there was a limit to the influence I had because I didn’t know what I know now. I am now being invited into conversations where decisions are made, and this means that I get to advocate for the rights of the women and girls that I represent.”

Aishatu’s work is not going unnoticed. She tells us about an incident where the women in her local government were not being invited to meetings or considered for job opportunities. She criticised the government for their lack of female representation through a post on social media.

“The post got no likes or comments from the politicians I tagged, but surprisingly I was contacted to recommend a female graduate to appointed for a job opportunity.”

Although she was unable to identify a qualified candidate in her immediate circle, she found someone through a fellow female activist. “A woman gained access to an opportunity that wouldn’t have been available if I hadn’t done anything,” says Aishatu with some pride.

Aishatu, who is a third-year student of Mass Communications at the University of Maiduguri, passionately believes that no one should ever feel oppressed because of their gender and has this message for girls and women. “You should always make your voice count. Never see injustice, violence or abuse and keep quiet.”

Building Back Equal: Girls Back to School Guide

This week, Plan International, UNESCO, UNGEI, UNICEF and Malala Fund, launched Building Back Equal: Girls Back to School Guide.

The guide aims to help policymakers and practitioners in Ministries of Education and their partners address the gender dimensions of the COVID-related school closures.

It provides targeted recommendations to ensure continuity of learning while schools are closed, and to establish comprehensive, timely and evidence-based plans for reopening schools in a way that is safe, gender-responsive and child-friendly, and meets the needs of the most marginalised girls.

It emphasises an approach to ‘build back equal’ through gender-responsive measures that transform education systems, prioritise resilience, and address the key bottlenecks and barriers to girls’ education.

This guide was developed by partners in UNESCO’s COVID-19 Global Education Coalition’s Gender Flagship. The Gender Flagship provides a collaborative platform for stakeholders committed to gender equality, and girls’ and women’s empowerment in and through education.

Together, we are working to ensure that #LearningNeverStops.

Under Siege: Impact of Covid-19 on Girls in Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and added yet another layer of vulnerability to girls in the African continent.

“My fear with this virus in Liberia is that women will really suffer over food. Men will abuse us. If I do not have food and a boy has food, if I ask him for help he will ask me for sex” Janet ,14, Liberia

Throughout history, women and girls have been affected negatively and at a disproportionately higher rate by the outbreaks of epidemics and pandemics, and COVID-19 hasn’t been an exception. Existing social and cultural norms and practices that underlie structures of systemic gender discrimination and marginalisation glaringly manifest themselves. Otherwise hidden and suppressed attitudes and practices are laid bare as communities and institutions resort to instincts to control and survive within emergency situations. 

In Africa, an intersection of factors leaves girls and adolescents at greater risk of marginalisation, discrimination and neglect. Gender and social norms have traditionally placed girls at a greater disadvantage than other segments of the population. 

Pandemics, like other crises, often result in the breakdown of social infrastructure and services, leading to health, transport, food, sanitation, legal, security and other governance structures being temporarily contracted or becoming dysfunctional.1 This may result in increased exposure of women and children to human rights abuses, including exposure to gender-based violence.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and added yet another layer of vulnerability to an already dire web of vulnerabilities of girls in the African continent, which constitute about 49% of the total child population. Critically, gender equality and girls’ multidimensional vulnerability have been accentuated to an unprecedented level. The pandemic has triggered major concerns about the potential reversal of the strides achieved over the years towards gender equality and human development in Africa.