Handicap International in East Timor

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Catherine Gillet, director of the East Timor programme, tells us more about the launch of actions in this country without responsive services.

In February 2012, Handicap International launched a project in East Timor, where it aims to enhance the skills of people working in the disability sector. “The needs here are very basic,” explains Catherine Gillet, programme director in Indonesia and, since 2012, Timor-Leste. “People with disabilities, particularly girls and women, are often the victims of discrimination and violence.”

This is not the first time Handicap International has intervened in East Timor . Between 2001 and 2003, the organisation supplied aid to victims of the conflict against the occupying Indonesian forces, which led to the country’s independence in 2002. During this period, Handicap International’s intervention focused on improving services in existing rehabilitation centres and the distribution of walking aids and essential equipment. In 2003, its intervention centred on physiotherapy training and support for local NGOs distributing rehabilitation equipment to people with disabilities.

Why did the organisation decide to resume its work in East Timor?

“We performed two exploratory missions in 2011 in order to assess needs in the field and to identify possible partnerships. We then decided to extend the Indonesia programme to Timor-Leste, where we opened an office in the capital Dili and recruited staff. The needs of people with disabilities in the current post-conflict environment (the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste is still present on the ground) are very real and they are often the victims of discrimination, stigmatisation and violence. Girls and women with disabilities are particularly at risk. Very little is known about the exact situation facing people with disabilities, particularly in the country’s remote rural interior, where certain beliefs and traditions remain strong.”

“Given these difficult circumstances, the country currently has no responsive or inclusive services , particularly in the health, economic and social fields. Basic needs are not being met. Several emerging civil society groups provide limited support, but the country currently has only two disabled people’s organisations, which are finding it hard to expand their operations. They are not currently in a position to meet people’s needs or to tackle the various challenges we’ve identified. What’s more, most institutional and civil society operators involved in disability issues lack the core technical abilities and expertise needed to deal with disability issues.”

What type of intervention are you putting in place?

“East Timor is vulnerable to natural disasters (landslides, flooding and powerful tides, etc.). Natural risk management will therefore be a key area for development. We have already organised projects in this field, such as in Bangladesh. A needs assessment performed during two exploratory missions in 2011 revealed that rights promotion and inclusive education are also top priorities.”

“In February, we formed a partnership with the country’s main disabled people’s organisation, RHTO (Ra’es Hadomi Timor Oan). A four-day training exercise was organised for disabled people’s organisations and staff from the UN and the National Electoral Council on access to voting for people with disabilities. Two key electoral events will be held in East Timor in the first half of 2012 - the presidential elections and the parliamentary elections.”