In its early days of independence, Timor-Leste had one of the world’s highest birth rates—each woman would give birth to more than seven children, as families sought to rebuild their nation. Now, 20 years on from the nation’s 1999 vote for freedom, those first babies are on the brink of adulthood, having grown up in a free, safe, and sovereign country still bearing the bruises of a vicious fight for freedom.

Here, in their own words, is what life is like today for those children of independence.

We longed to be ourselves. We wanted to take pride in being ourselves—as people and a nation. Children… it is time to sing and dance. This is our freedom to enjoy.

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Sophie Raynor

Sophie Raynor is a freelance writer based in Dili, Timor-Leste, interested in gender, youth and politics in Southeast Asia. She is on Twitter @raynorsophie.