Timor-Leste, or as it used to be called, East Timor, is our closest neighbour, the world’s newest nation and the poorest country in the region. The Pittwater Community’s interest in and commitment to assisting Timor Leste began a couple of years ago at Maria Regina Catholic Primary School. The support of the Parish and of Pittwater Council it has enabled the project to grow to encompass the wider Pittwater community.
Last Friday night Father George, Kathy Gee, Mark Ferguson, the General Manager of Pittwater Council and Jane Mulroney and I returned from a brief eye opening visit to Timor Leste. The Pittwater community has established a friendship relationship with the community of Soibada located within the Manatuto District in central East Timor. We met with the Local District Administrators, Father Abel Guterres, the parish priest of Soibada who visited us here earlier this year, and the village elders to make this Friendship Agreement official. It has been established in accordance with the Statement of Principles for Local Governments Working in Timor-Leste.
The Friends of Soibada, a community based group within Pittwater, has been formed to assist this East Timorese community. To ensure a coordinated approach and accountability to both the Soibada and Pittwater communities the project will establish a committee to oversee the administration and development of projects as well as fundraising efforts. The first meeting will be held at Avalon Recreation Centre on 22 September. All are welcome to attend.
Soibada is an isolated village with few resources. It is very beautiful, high in the mountains in central Timor, it was originally built by the Portuguese. The community, like all East Timorese communities has been devastated by past occupation by Indonesian and militia groups and subsequent turmoil following Independence.
On a good day it takes about four and a half hours to get there from Dili, the capital city, by 4 wheel drive on unsurfaced extremely winding roads. However, our adventure lasted over 8 hours and saw us visiting many villages on the way (okay – yes we were lost). We were bogged a few times which proved a wonderful excuse to meet many locals as they assisted Father George and Mark Ferguson in pulling us out of the mud! In fact, in the village of Natabora an entire school of children came out of class to help. Their teachers must have really loved us!
There are no bridges to Soibada, so during the rainy season the town is completely cut off. This has been an exceptionally long wet season. We eventually arrived hours later than expected to discover the village children had been praying for our safety for some hours. The welcome we received was extremely warm.
The people of Soibada have been rebuilding their small community since independence. However, they need further support to increase the health, well-being and capacity of the community. The purpose of establishing a strong relationship with the Soibada community is to provide that support for local projects and build skills that will contribute to the long term independence and sustainability of the community.
Any projects to be implemented in Soibada will be determined by the Soibada community in communication with the Friends of Soibada project. Currently, they have indicated a number of priorities including constructing a floor and toilets at the local school. There is also a need for a building for 3-6 year olds. At the moment these younger children sit outside their siblings’ classrooms. The older children care for them during their breaks from class.
There are many ways you can become involved in Friends of Soibada.
Nominate to become involved on the Committee
Join up and become a supporter of the Friends of Soibada
Identify a fundraising project that you can undertake in your community
Identify resources that may be contributed to projects in Soibada
Donate to the fundraising efforts
Attend and support fundraising events
We learnt much from the people of Soibada during our short time there. The community has as much to offer us as we can offer them. The people have a very strong faith and trust in God’s providence. Even after all they have suffered they have an inner strength and positive outlook that is enviable. Although often unsure where the next meal will come from the three nuns in the convent provide a stable and loving home for the 78 children that live there. The children show care and concern for each other and for their environment. The entire community has a sense of spirit and love that binds them together like a family.
Father Abel was able to show us the purchases he made with the money we raised during his visit earlier this year and the financial records that the community has kept. The difference we as a community can make in Soibada was very evident. The children happily showed us their new desks and chairs – received just in time for their exams!
This is a partnership, a friendship, a two way relationship. It is a long term and sustainable project. Your help is needed to ensure the success of the Friends of Soibada project. Please watch this space for weekly updates.