“This is Adriano. He is 8 years old. He lives with his older sister Nanda (17, she has a one year old daughter), his 5 year old and 10 month old sisters, and his mother. Adriano lives in a dense, semi-forest district in central Timor. Adriano has previously not gone to school. At the time of our visit, he had been going for just 1 week – his first week at school!
In the family’s house, they had a container that would normally contain corn. However, due to irregular rainfall and the family’s situation, this large, barrel like container is completely empty. Many families in Timor- Leste attempt to store their food in these containers. However, the hungry seasons are so long and severe that the food doesn’t see the distance of time. Furthermore, the containers are often not properly sealed, and rats can easily get in and eat the food.
The family has no income to really speak of. They also have no or little land to tend their own food. Any land they do tend or work on is owned by others. The field of sweet potato and cassava that World Vision was helping to prepare behind his house with the support of Smiles donations will go some way to addressing the families food insecurity. However, the land is owned by others – and they may at some time request the return of the field.
During the hungry season, Adriano and his family have to turn to their only accessible food source…
This bark is referred to as ‘Akar’. It comes from the tree trunk of a sago palm tree. I saw families eating this in Timor in 2006. It was no less disturbing and saddening to see families with young children having little more than Akar to eat once again. In order to prepare Akar, the bark of the tree trunk must be stripped and layed out to dry. It is then pounded into fine flour like dust, as Adriano is pointing to below. The effort to pound the bark exerts more energy than a child would receive from the Akar itself.
The powder is then placed over an iron hot dish and cooked for 15 minutes or so. This turns the powder into a jelly like substance that is a cross between rocky road and a muesli bar. It has next to no nutritional value, and tastes like ‘nothing’. Families like Adriano’s, from the months of December to as late as April and May eat this – once a day. Occasionally they may supplement it with wild beans that need to be cooked 12 times over to be edible, or any other food they can get their hands on. However, Akar is the staple. And not just for Adriano. But many families we drove past were preparing Akar for the evening.
Asked how he felt when he was hungry, Adriano said, “When I feel hungry, I feel dark – sleepy, like I’ll fall over.” When asked if he had any dreams for the future, the neighbours nearby that had come to inspect the commotion laughed at such a question: “Who can have dreams here”. Adriano though, did have a dream of becoming a police officer – “to catch the drunk people” in his own words!”
One of the guys I travelled with, Jacob, was the NSW Youth Ambassador in 2006. Now working for World Vision, he had the opportunity to return to Timor as a Chaperone for the 2011 Study Tour. He emailed some reflections from the trip, and I wanted to share them here.