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Stories of hope and solidarity during COVID19 crisis in Timor-Leste   

By Helio Miguel de Araujo
National Communications Officer
UN Women Timor-Leste

Journalists are a critical source of much-needed public information in the changing context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Stepping into the frontline alongside health and other key public services, journalists are shedding light on the rapidly evolving situation, while community members are often confined to their homes to slow the spread of the virus. The work they perform was   highlighted by the Prime Minister Taur Matan-Ruak, during a recent plenary in the parliament on 27 March, stating journalists have to move around, to transmit and share information while putting themselves at risk of the virus. Your contribution is needed to calm the public from hoax and disoriented information sources.”

Zevonia Vieira, the President of Timor-Leste Journalist Association, and frontline journalist, shares how COVID-19 has changed the way she lives and works.“As a journalist, I have an obligation to share information to the public at any time, including on this outbreak in response to public concerns. People wanted to stay informed and feel secure from reliable information. I’m always ready to support the government through sharing credible information,” said Zevonia.      

As Timor-Leste entered its State of Emergency in the middle of March in response to the threat of COVID-19 in the country, the government has emphasized the rule of physical distancing and ensuring front line workers are fully under protective equipment in carrying out their work.  Journalists have called for measures to support them to do their job safely. Zevonia noted, “we made a press statement to urge for government’s attention to provide us a media center. As a result, now there is one where journalists are able to keep social distancing during the duty because each has their own seat and placed in distance to ask question during the press release. However, news agencies are not yet fully prepared to equip staff with the covid-19 prevention information and personal protection materials they need to protect themselves at the field.”        

In the time of crisis, Zevonia emphasizes that journalists are carrying more than their actual role in serving the public; they are also actively educating people on practicing the recommended prevention measures, and she has started with her family.       

 A mother and family caregiver

Being a journalist working under psychological and physical stress covering the constantly evolving situation, Zevonia has to hold another front line role as a parent for her child and caregiver for her family. As with many women raised in patriarchal societies, she has to manage the expectations of carrying double or even triple roles as a caregiver, working as a professional and household manager during emergency times. “As a female journalist and a mother, dividing time has always been my biggest challenge. After a full day of being at work, once I arrive home, I have to tenderly take care of my family’s needs and spend time with my son until he goes to bed. Then, I’ll use the time late at night to continue writing the remaining work to publish” admitted Zevonia, who sighed through exhaustion from performing all these roles alone.  Zevonia’s daily routine is a reality all too common around the world. UN Women’s Progress of the Worlds’ Women 2019-2020 Report highlighted that globally, women do three times as much unpaid care work as men.

Zevonia considers balancing her work as a single mother and professional journalist as a learning opportunity to manage herself and grow stronger. This learning has been put to a test with the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent closure of schools. Zevonia has to double up her time with her son, dedicating quality time and finding ways to maintain her productivity as a journalist, as her family relies on her income as the breadwinner. At the same time, Zevonia’s family raised more concerns about her safety at work. She said “my family has been really concerned for my health being out there covering the news. I found it very difficult, but I’ve been emphasizing to my family that I am following         recommendations from health experts, such as washing hands, taking vitamins and having enough rest.”                                 

After years of playing these multiple roles, communication has been Zevonia’s tool to find balance and build good relationships with her family. Her secret? “I always build a discussion or dialogue when having meals together with my child and family. It helps to make them aware of my work and makes me feel that my time is balanced between work and family.”