As the road climbs from the East Timorese hillside town of Railaco and its Our Lady of Fatima parish, through jungle peppered with wild coffee trees, the air cools.
At the top of the mountain, an aging four-wheel-drive stacked with plates, spoons and a massive pot of soupy stew turns up a narrow road, then a narrower one, and then finally hauls itself up a stretch of sodden grass to a small, whitewashed church atop the village of Cocao.
The vehicle comes to a halt on a some flat land behind the church and in front of a small hall. Dozens of thin, children appear every which way out of the jungle, along muddy roads and descending hillsides. It is time for some food, and Christina Da Cruz and her colleague Leonora Mendonsa are here to provide as much nutrition to as many kids as they can.
Here, in one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries, where about 90 percent of the population is Catholic, almost 42 percent of the people get by on less than $1.54 a day, according to the Asian Development Bank. Even official government statistics peg child malnutrition at 30 percent, one of the highest rates anywhere in the world.
Before the meal, the children are organized into two groups and participate in learning and self-expression exercises, mixed with some religious education, for about 30 minutes. After the clapping, chatting and a little singing are over, the children converge on the back of the now-opened truck.
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