From UNESCO Office in Jakarta

The energy of youth is on display this week in Dili, Timor-Leste, where the “Sport for Life Youth Leadership Camp” is bringing together youth facilitators from all 13 municipalities of the country.  From July 4th to 16th, they are trained to become facilitators themselves, to replicate the Sport for Life activities and to spread the positive influence of sport on youth development across the country, conducting the events at the sub-municipal level, so that every young person is given the opportunity to engage.

The Story of Youth in Timor-Leste

It is often said that the hope of a nation is its youth, and in that sense, Timor-Leste has much to be hopeful about. The country has the highest proportion of youth in the Southeast Asia region: More than half of the population – 55 percent – is under 18, while more than third – 35 percent – is between 10 and 24 years of age, compared to the regional average of 27 percent for that age category.

A youthful population represents a great potential for the future of the country, as long as the young women and men have the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to lead healthy and productive lives. The available data points to serious threats to the realization of this potential in the country. Certain health and behavioural indicators for Timor-Leste raise alarm as the highest in Southeast Asia¹ :

  • Adolescent Fertility Rate (births per 1000 women age 15-19): 51 (average for the region is 35). Not surprisingly, the country has the lowest percentage of Women Using Modern Contraception: 7% for ages 15-19, and 15% for ages 20-24 (average for the region 37 and 52 respectively).
  • Percentage of Tobacco Use among Adolescents ages 13-15: 30% Female and 55% Male (average for the region is 5 and 20, respectively)
  • Attitude Toward Wife-Beating among Young Women (percentage who agree under certain circumstances): 81% for ages 15-19, and 87% for ages 20-24 (average for the region is 35% and 33%, respectively)

Youth Inclusion and Empowerment: Sport for Life Initiative

As a partnership between UNESCO and an international NGO SportImpact, Sport for Life initiative is designed to harness the power of youth to confront these challenges through sport. It builds the capacity of young women and men to become change-makers. All relevant stakeholders collaborate to use sport as a tool for inclusion of underprivileged communities, providing opportunities for human development even in the most remote areas of Timor-Leste.The idea behind the initiative is simple yet powerful: sport is a proven means for positive transformation and social inclusion of young people.  From playing games with the peers in a schoolyard to a serious pursuit of a sports discipline, the practice opens a unique opportunity to learn important values and to engage in teamwork and cooperation. These lessons help to shape attitudes and provide models of good conduct that last a lifetime.

The Sport for Life started in 2015 as a series of workshops delivered by SportImpact with UNESCO’s support in all municipalities of Timor-Leste, empowering the youth to develop solutions to their needs and dreams.

In the second phase of the project launched in 2016, the focus shifts from municipal to sub-municipal level. To maintain a focus on local ownership, development and sustainability, the initiative follows a gradual empowerment strategy, where over time the project is handed over to local actors.  The participants of the ongoing Youth Training Camp will graduate as the facilitators to take Sport for Life to the sub-municipality level. In each sub-municipality they will run the five-day workshop to build the capacity of the local youth to organize sport events, followed by a one-day multi-sport event, co-organized with workshop participants and with as many local groups and organizations as possible. The event will include all members of the community, especially hundreds of kids from the nearby schools.

Inclusive Sports Policies for Social Development and Well-being

UNESCO encourages government to make sufficient investment into Sports. There is a growing body of evidence that sport can deliver benefits across a wide range of social issues. The most obvious is the role of sport in promoting healthy lifestyles, and the associated social and economic benefits. The World Health Organization has stated that investment in sport will yield three times that investment in medical costs savings. Moreover, Formal and non-formal sport education has proven to be particularly successful in breaking down gender stereotypes, promoting positive values, building social cohesion and driving holistic youth development and participation in public, political and community life.

UNESCO has a unique mandate within the United Nations family in physical education and sport. It continues to provide support and guidance to the governments and institutions worldwide, including the State Secretariat for Youth and Sport in Timor-Leste, in putting together evidence-based policies that fully harness the power of sport for peace and social development.