A spirit of partnership in the wake of disaster

“The community project really belongs to us. We have to take care of it because those constructions and cleaning are for us.”

In the wake of the devastating floods of April 2021, caused by Tropical Cyclone Seroja, in the capital, Dili, CARE Timor-Leste realised that recovery from disaster meant more than just the distribution of emergency supplies. Communities, while shaken, were already engaged in response actions on the ground and felt driven to play a more active role in the recovery of their neighbourhoods. CARE Timor-Leste facilitated communities to identify their own priorities, and then empowered those same communities to enact their plans through meaningful agency over humanitarian shelter and settlement resources, a “Safer Shelter” advocacy campaign and, most importantly, a spirit of partnership.

That happened because all [projects] were undertaken by our local craftsmen to support us all. From these works, we learned many new techniques from each other and that is good for us all.”

Responding with urgency to the floods CARE Timor-Leste mounted a rapid emergency response securing ECHO funding and proceeding to develop an integrated shelter strategy responding to the acute needs of those affected by the floods. This included initial emergency distribution of shelter and non-food items but then, sensing the opportunity for closer collaboration with communities, continued with a highly consultative gendered shelter assessment that informed the development of an innovate programme of community-led recovery projects that involved participatory budgeting resulting in a unique programme of funded activities in each community that CARE supported.

In parallel, leaning on its global technical expertise in this area, CARE played a key role in the development of a national information, education and communication (IEC) campaign around safer construction of homes. This involved leadership among the global community of international humanitarian actors, close coordination with the national government, technical expertise both national and global in crafting the IEC shelter materials, and collaboration with Lafaek, a longstanding project of CARE and expert in the field of developing community-focused communication materials.

This six-month project was funded by ECHO with €105,000. It reached 1,826 people directly through emergency items, 7,154 people through community interventions and over 103,000 households through the safer shelter awareness campaign.

What changed?

  • Ten communities in Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, were not only supported with critical humanitarian inputs but empowered to prioritise and manage their own response projects.
  • These projects supported 7,154 community members or 1,257 affected households across ten aldeias in Manleuana, Dili, with community-based shelter projects.
  • These projects were identified and prioritised by the communities themselves leading to a diverse set of activities including cleaning 2,337 metres of drainage, repairing 25 metres of drainage, repairing 16 metres of culvert drainage, installing 23 waste disposal units and repairing 500 metres of water canals. Women were not just listened to in the wake of the crisis, but they actively set the agenda and lead the response projects. “Women had a big participation during the community construction project. It was not only men who were working; it was we, the women, who were also involved. We supported the men in cooking during construction, but we also did drainage clearing by ourselves. We got inside the drains and we helped clean them up. It is for our community and for our protections and resilience for the future”
  • Over 103,000 households were reached across Timor-Leste with safer home construction messages through the Lafaek community magazine.
  • Over 225,000 followers were reached, and more than 36,000 engagements were recorded with ECHO-sponsored Facebook content.
  • 283 most vulnerable households in Manleuana received emergency relief items.

How did it happen?

Gendered Shelter Assessment

CARE developed an innovative protocol to capture nuanced community data related to homes and communities through qualitative assessment tools such as focus group discussions and key informant interviews. This engages groups such as women, men, girls, boys, the elderly and persons with disabilities. These gendered perspectives helped empower community voices and shaped the project through ongoing consultation and meaningful engagement.

Community-Led Recovery Projects

CARE facilitated each affected community through a participatory process or risk assessment and project identification that led each aldea (village) to develop their own set of CARE-funded project activities. This resulted in a diverse set of community-managed projects such as waste disposal management, drainage clearing, water system repair, protection wall construction and community building construction.

Safer Shelter Awareness Campaign

CARE took on a key role at the national level to develop information, education and communication materials including a shelter manual and poster. CARE developed the technical messages in coordination with the National Government and Technical Working Group of INGOs. CARE also worked with Lafaek, publisher of a community magazine that CARE launched over 20 years ago, to illustrate the materials in a culturally appropriate and accessible style.

Global collaboration bringing together the best of CARE

CARE’s global systems for emergency response and surge capacity kicked into action bringing CARE’s Global Shelter Technical Team and CARE Timor-Leste country office together online. These teams, while on opposite sides of the globe, worked closely together supporting each other and bringing together the best of CARE’s technical knowledge and national level implementation experience.

CARE International has been working in Timor-Leste since 1994 with a focus on humanitarian and development programming. CARE has over 220 staff with a head office in Dili. CARE’s current programming reaches all 13 municipalities in Timor-Leste.

Want to learn more?

Check out the project evaluation capturing insightful perspectives from the affected community