Pittwater Friends of Soibada
As the friendship project between Pittwater and Soibada gains momentum, and support from our community intensifies, questions have arisen about the origin of relationship and its purpose. So I thought I would revisit some facts about Timor Leste and our sister village.
Timor-Leste, or as it used to be called, East Timor, is our closest neighbour, one of the world’s newest nations and the poorest country in the region. It is a land rich in myth and legend. In one of its mythic representations, is described as a half-submerged crocodile, wary and waiting. In another, Timor is mother earth itself, accepting, long-suffering, supportive of all who rely upon her. The Pittwater Community’s interest in and commitment to assisting Timor Leste began a couple of years ago at Maria Regina Catholic Primary School in Avalon. The support of the Parish and of Pittwater Council has enabled the project to grow to encompass the wider Pittwater community.
The Pittwater Friends of Soibada, a community based group within Pittwater, is now very active and making a tangible difference to the lives of the people in the community of Soibada. The Friendship Agreement between the two communities has been established in accordance with the Statement of Principles for Local Governments Working in Timor-Leste.
Located within the Manatuto District in central Timor Leste, Soibada is an isolated village with few resources. In the geographical centre of Timor, Soibada lies in the southern rainshadow of the mountains that form the central, spine of Timor Island. It is 1.700m above sea level and covers an area of 129,54 square km. It is comprised of 5 villages and 10 sub villages and has a population of just over 3,000. The temperature is considered cool by Timorese standards, ranging between 20 to 29 degrees. Soibada is 135km from Dili,at least four and a half hours drive, on treacherous, unsurfaced steep and winding roads. It is completely cut off during the wet season as there is no bridge across the river. This “road” is the only link to the outside world.
It is picturesque, set high in the mountains with breathtaking views. It was originally built by the Portuguese in 1898 and has a rich history of cultural and spiritual significance. From space you can identify the layout of the old Portuguese town which was intended to become the capital of Portuguese Timor. The college they established was the only secondary school in Timor, and overtime it became the leading school/college. Many of Timor Leste’s school teachers, lay church and government workers trained there during the first few decades of the 1900s. Timor Leste’s current leaders schooled there for at least a few years. The school presently has over 600 students ranging in age from 6 years to 16. 78 of these children live in the Convent with the three nuns. In order to complete the equivalent of Years 11 and 12 the children must move to Dili.
Soibada has become well known as a sacred place for the Catholic community in Manatuto and Timor Leste. It is said that Our Lady appeared on Aitara Hill above the village. Pilgrims from all over the country gather there on October 16 each year.
The community of Soibada, like all East Timorese communities has been devastated by past occupation by Indonesian and militia groups and subsequent turmoil following Independence. The people have been rebuilding their small community since then. However, they need further support to increase the health, well-being and capacity of the people of the village. The purpose of establishing a strong relationship with Soibada 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 Pittwater Friends of Soibada project team. Father Abel, the Parish Priest and other village elders 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, a youth centre, a women’s centre and a clinic. In the future micro finance for small business will also be investigated. The community of Soibada has access to resources and tradesmen qualified to restore the old damaged buildings of the school. However, they have no funds to do this. Fundraising is a good way for us to contribute. It is a much better use of resources for them to employ local tradesmen and use local products. This way we assist in stimulating the local economy by providing jobs and giving them the means to help themselves.
This is a partnership, a friendship, a two way relationship. It is a long term and sustainable project. It needs your continued support in order to flourish. The positive results of this endeavour are already evident in our community. Pittwater residents of all ages, backgrounds, business and community groups are coming together as committed team to ensure the success of this developing relationship. It is proving to be a fantastic ecumenical enterprise amongst the churches as well.
the “Soibada Knitters” meet every Wednesday in the Social Justice Office under Maria Regina Church at 12.30pm. Everyone is welcome!
Soibada Christmas Cards are for sale (more volunteers needed please)
Timorese craft, ideal for Christmas presents, is for sale in the Social Justice Office between 12.30 and 2pm every Wednesday.
Tamara Sloper Harding
Tetum Word of the Week
Suku: To sew