Soibada Video


This video will give you an idea of life in the village of Soibada and also the project areas for the future.



Celebrity Concert- "Songs for Soibada"

The Concert held on Saturday 4th September 2010 was a resounding success. The Mater Maria Hall was full and there was a star studded cast from Les Miserables, Phantom, Boy from Oz and others plus local performers.

It was a night to remember! The Pittwater Parish Soul Band performed, the La Mont dancers danced, the performers sang (and tap-danced and played), Tamara witnessed, the raffle was drawn, we listened to an inspirational speech from Mr Abel Gutteres (Timor Leste Ambassador to Australia), we saw the DVD about the village of Soibada and Timor Leste more generally.

It was a unique night that would have been worth attending even if it cost four times as much and was not for a very deserving cause. But the fact that we were supporting the poor village of Soibada made it even better. Performers, organisers, the AV company and many more volunteers worked tirelessly to make this a brilliant event. You can see photos from the event by clicking this link. Further photos at this link.

Here are some of the highlights . Note that if you click your mouse on an image, it will expand.

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Where the sun rises


A very successful evening organised by Maria Regina Primary school staff, parents and students was held on the 14th of May.

The wife of the Prime Minister of East Timor and former First Lady of Timor Leste, Australian born

Kirsty Sword Gusmão introduced the powerful film "Where the sun rises" also known as "A hero's journey".

It portrays the struggle for independence in East Timor but is primarily about reconciliation and forgiveness and featured the Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão with many of those affected by the years of crisis.

Those attending learned a lot about the lifestyle in Timor Leste and also the  needs of the country. Some of the scenes evoked strong feelings of sadness but also joy. There were remarkable stories of forgiveness, the memories of which will stay for a long time with those who attended.


There was a lively question time with broad participation. The audience  included  Her Excellency Estela Ferreira the UN appointed Goodwill Ambassador to Timor Leste and  the Consul General of Timor Leste Mr Abel Guterres. Also present were the local Mayor Mr. David James, Dr Susan Bliss, the Director of Global Education for Ausaid, local area command Superintendent of Police, Fr George, Bishop Bernard and others.


All money raised is being donated to the Alola Foundation which was established in 2002 by Former First Lady, Kirsty Sword Gusmão to provide help in advocacy, education, employment and maternal and child health to the women of East Timor.


Reviewing the book

Kirsty with Tamara, one of the organisers

Click here or on the photo gallery link for more photos

“If we can forgive, we liberate ourselves.” Xanana Gusmão


Timor Leste and Soibada

Towards the end of September 2009, Fr George, Kathy Gee (Principal, Maria Regina School) and Tamara Harding paid a quick visit to Timor Leste to formalise our Parish partnership agreement with the village of Soibada. It was a most confronting and moving experience. Especially meeting the local children. After witnessing the plight of the people first hand you become compelled to do something to rectify it.


Over time there will be detailed presentations in both churches and the schools and lots of information on our web site to explain the nature of this project and how you can all become involved. For, your support and involvement is truly needed so that we can make a substantial difference to the lives of these people and in the future of their children.


Timor-Leste, or as it used to be called, East Timor, is our closest neighbour, the worlds newest nation and the poorest country in the region. It is only one hours flight from Darwin. Ten years on from independence, the rural areas of East Timor are still among the most disadvantaged places on the face of the earth. Almost two-thirds of its adult population is illiterate. Over 50% of the population is under 15 years of age. Its children face extraordinary challenges. One in ten babies die before reaching their first birthday. Timorese women are ten times more likely to die during child birth than Australian women.

Sacred Heart Church (Soibada)

The violence of September 1999 went a long way to destroying up to 90 per cent of East Timor's school buildings and related infrastructure. A lack of simple resources, such as pens and pencils, has translated into a community disaster. Education is very important for the East Timorese. With education they can grow as a nation. To obtain this good education, they need the support of the international community, especially Australians. They speak several languages at school - Tetum, Portugese, Indonesian and English. The country is struggling to find its own curriculum using both the national language, Portuguese, and Tetum.

Furthermore ... part of the colonial apparatus of the Indonesians was that schools had to teach in the Bahasa language of Indonesia. Most teachers - 80 per cent of secondary schools staff - were Indonesian. All of these were removed when independence came. As a result only one in 100 teachers now in East Timor schools has had any training.

Needless to say, our parish's initial focus will be on education. For that will lead to improvement in so many other areas of their lives. Out of necessity, we will also do something quite quickly about sanitation in the village.

Continue Reading


Friends of Soibada

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.



About Soibada

The heartland of Timor Leste has historically been its mountainous interior. However, its rough, jagged, terrain has made it almost impossible for the development of large continuous settlements. Thus, the mountain inhabitants have traditionally lived scattered in small groups. The village of Soibada is a good example of this type of arrangement. Although radiating around the central church, convent and school buildings the village stretches far across the neighbouring ridges and valleys down towards the river. Compact fields cling to the slopes and homes with impossibly beautiful views perch precariously atop steep and slippery rock faces.

The majority of the population in Soibada are subsistence farmers. They produce maize, vanilla, corn, beans, citrus, cassava, potatoes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, taro, tapioca, carrots, cabbages and avocados. Coffee, candlenuts, and cocoa are also extensive in the highlands, and especially in Soibada ‘s sub-districts.

Some villagers also raise livestock, including cattle, water buffalo, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens and pigs. Farm animals have excellent potential to become a cornerstone of East Timor’s economic development. Cattle ownership largely determines social status and cattle are valuable financial assets for farmers. They are more valuable than goats, sheep and pigs from a social point of view but they are not as easy to trade. The latter can be sold easily whenever farmers face economic difficulties. They provide funds for emergency needs such as children’s schooling, deficits of staple foods in poor seasons, or funerals.


Farmers are reluctant to slaughter animals for their own consumption, except during funerals, festivals or wedding celebrations. Livestock range freely with little restriction. They are periodically penned or tethered after one or two days grazing. Pens are often set some distance from houses. Farmers have freely grazed their animals on common pastures for hundreds of years, and these pastures, whether native or introduced, provide a cheap source of feed. However underfeeding is common.


Erosion in this wet steep location is exacerbated by heavy grazing. Pigs are generally reared traditionally without pens. Underfed horses are common and provide transport for people and produce, especially in the mountains where there are no roads suitable for public or private vehicles.

Please come to the concert “Songs of Soibada” on Saturday the 4th of September. (Details elsewhere in the Bulletin and on this web page.) Not only does it promise to be a fantastic night of top class entertainment, there will be great raffle prizes and jewellery and Timorese products for sale. All funds raised will go direct to the village.



Timor Leste Facts


·         The majority of people in the mountains are subsistence farmers.

·         Crops in the highlands include maize, vanilla, corn, beans, citrus, cassava, potatoes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, taro, tapioca, carrots, cabbages, avocados, coffee, candlenuts and cocoa.

·         Rice is grown in the lowlands and is a staple food.

·         Livestock raised include cattle, water buffalo, goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits and pigs.


Tetum Phrase of the week


O-nia naran sa/saida?   What’s your name?


Strengthening Friendship: People to People

The essence of last week’s Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Movement conference in Maubisse, Timor Leste was friendship. The conference brought together more than 100 people from Friendship groups, like Pittwater and Soibada’s, for what was Timor-Leste’s largest international conference outside Dili. The Friendship Movement is warmly supported by the Timor Leste Government. Snr Archangelo Leite, the Timor-Leste Minister for State Administration, said that he wanted to see it continue to develop and to progress. He said that governments come and go, but that friendship continued. According to the Australian Ambassador to Timor-Leste, HE Peter Heyward, The Friendship Movement is a true symbol of the closeness of Australia and Timor-Leste. He said that the people to people relationships provided an underlying substance to more formal bilateral relations.

The Friendship Movement has committed itself to continuing for the next ten years. A website will be established to share information between Friends in Timor-Leste and Friends in Australia.

A number of issues considered to be challenges were discussed and processes to overcome them were devised. Several issues that are very relevant to our relationship with Soibada are:

Communication: language, telephone, internet.

Road access

The conference addressed a number of themes. The greatest strength was identified as the long-term commitment of both Australian and Timor-Leste friends to the movement. There have also been many successful local projects. In his closing remarks, the Director of State Administration, Snr Abilio Caetano, referred to brothers and sisters coming together in love, peace and solidarity.

Addressing the conference, the President of Timor-Leste, HE Jose Ramos-Horta, highlighted the role played by the Friendship movement in underpinning relations between Timor-Leste and Australia.

President Ramos-Horta said: ‘No country in the world has committed more than Australia to Timor-Leste.’ ‘My hope,’ he continued, ‘is for each suco in Timor-Leste to be adopted by a council in Australia. I want each school in Australia to adopt a school in Timor-Leste.’

Pittwater’s relationship with Soibada is a significant part of establishing such lasting friendships. The primary purpose of this relationship with the people of Soibada is to provide support for local projects and build skills within the Soibada community that will contribute to the long term independence and sustainability of the community. However, the development of lasting friendships is integral to the success of any projects undertaken.


Please don’t forget the Inaugural meeting of the Pittwater Friends of Soibada at 7pm on 22 September at the Avalon Recreation Centre. All are welcome to attend.


Timor Facts

Access to safe water and hygienic sanitation is a significant problem.

There are no significant dams and only two perennial rivers.

The rivers are steep and none are suitable for transport.

The most people rely on underground water from wells for drinking.

Any water available for irrigating crops is reserved for rice fields.

There is high rainfall in the wet season (our summer), and abundant natural springs all over the island.

Despite all this rain and the springs the people there have only a fraction of the water that we have to use each day.

One flush of our toilets is what the average person living in Timor Leste uses all day.

Nearly two thirds of the population live in rural areas where there is either no or very limited access to safe drinking water. 


Before 1999, less than half of the population of East Timor had access to safe water, and according to the UN, most of the water systems were  focused on urban areas.

Water-born diseases are rife.


Independence and the contamination of water supplies

 When an overwhelming majority of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999, it led to violent opposition. 1999 Militia opposing East Timor independence killed pro-independence supporters and threw bodies in the water wells.  Thus, they contaminated the country’s supply of clean drinking water. 

 Much of East Timor’s infrastructure was destroyed following the independence ballot of 1999. This included water supply infrastructure. Exacerbating this situation was the already degraded state of rural water supply systems due to inadequate design, poor construction and low quality materials.



Tetum Word of the Week


kolega or amigo or maluk  - Friend


Pittwater Friends of Soibada

Last Saturday Night’s “Songs for Soibada” was an amazing and very successful evening. We are so blessed to have such talent and so many hard workers here in our Parish. It was a wonderful example of our Parish Commitment to assisting Soibada, not just from the performers and organisers, but from all those that supported it in so many ways. His Excellency, Abel Guterres, the Ambassador of Timor Leste, was overwhelmed and delighted.


Australia has had ties to East Timor for far longer than most people are aware. – In WW2 over 40,000 East Timorese died as a result of assisting Australia. We promised them friendship and protection ……. And we let them down. Here in Pittwater we have had a link with Timor Leste for at least the last 11 years. Pittwater Parish supported me in my efforts to ease the suffering of the locals whilst I was there as a Defence Force Officer with INTERFET in 1999. I was sent food, clothing, toys, books, pens, sewing material, equipment and daily essentials for distribution.


So I am urging you now to continue this relationship and develop this friendship with Soibada. The obligation of social justice does fall upon each of us as individuals It will be a sustainable lasting connection and to be successful it needs your support.


Please come. If you are interested in nominating for a position on the committee, or would like to be further involved give me a call on 0403226699 or send me an email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


There are so many problems in our world at the moment. It can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start - or if to try at all.


Mother Theresa said;

“If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”


The greatest thing I have learnt from my experiences is that an ordinary person really can make the world a better place, if not for many, but for at least one other person.


You can make a difference


To a child

To a family

To a village

 To  our sister village Soibada


Tais Cloth

Tais cloth is a form of traditional weaving created by the women of Timor Leste. We have had Tais items for sale here in the parish now and then to raise funds for Soibada. You may have also noticed the brightly woven cloth in some of the photos in the Bulletin or on the Parish website. Tais are an important part of the cultural heritage of East Timorese people. They are an essential part of many of the traditional activities.

Tais weavings are used for ceremonial adornment, decoration, and clothing. In ceremonial use, the tais is usually worn along with feathers, coral, gold and/or silver. The imagery and patterns of tais vary greatly from region to region, their designs represent important stories, records and beliefs. Men and women wear distinctively different tais. Men’s tais, ‘Tais Mane’ are worn like a sarong around the waist. They are usually bright colours and woven in one large piece. The women’s Tais, ‘Tais Feto’ is a tube of fabric either worn as a skirt or a dress. In recent years an addition to these two styles is the selendang, a long slender piece of cloth used for giving tribute by placing ceremoniously around the neck. The members of the group that visited Soibada were presented with these as a sign of friendship. Ambassador Guterres also gave some to the performers at Songs for Soibada as a gift of thanks.

The Catholic Church of East Timor has also adopted the use of tais during its ceremonies.

Weaving of Tais is performed by women and is regarded as an integral part of their duties. It can sometimes be a social activity but more often than not it is another thing to fit in between their routine daily chores. Tais are an important source of cultural sustainability and income for many women. Development of the tais industry has the potential to provide economic improvement to a vulnerable and marginalized section of society and represents an opportunity to preserve or revitalize traditional production methods and motifs.

One of the most common tools for tais weaving is the back-strap loom, which is painful for many women due to the pressure from the strap. Using mostly cotton threads, the cloth is created during the island's dry season, almost entirely by hand. The use of cotton is a legacy of the Portuguese colonial era, when Timor was an important port for the trade in the material. Dyes mixed from plants like taun, kinur, and teka are used to create bright colors in the tais. Other dyes are derived from mango skin, potato leaf, cactus flowers, and turmeric. During the 1999 wave of violence known in East Timor as "Black September", many tais weavers saw their tools and equipment stolen or destroyed.

Since Independence, messages found their way into the tais in English and Portuguese as well as Tetum. A quite remarkable fact, given that most of the weavers are found in rural areas where they have not had the opportunity to learn how to read or write.

I have a reasonable stock of Tais available for purchase and would welcome any volunteers to assist with holding stalls in the future. All funds raised will go directly back to Soibada.


Tetum Words of the Week

Feto                      woman

Feto faluk             widow

Timor Leste Facts

  • 50-60%  of children (and their mothers) are malnourished. This limits both their physical growth and their cognitive development.
  • Research has shown that 60% of families have no food at all in their house at least one day a fortnight.
  • Women in East Timor have endured years of violent oppression, abuse of human rights, displacement and sexual violence.
  • Women-headed households (through abandonment or as widows) are particularly vulnerable with limited economic and material means to survive.
  • It is estimated that at least 10% of households are women-headed.
  • 88% of women have unpaid work on family gardens and farms.
  • Women’s daily workload is much greater than men’s, leading to chronic exhaustion and malnutrition.
  • Weavings called Tais and other handicrafts are an invaluable expression of traditional knowledge and East Timorese culture.


Materially Poor but Spiritually Rich

The people of Timor-Leste might be materially poor, but buoyed by their Catholic faith, they are spiritually rich. The Portuguese initially brought Catholicism to the East Timorese. However, the Catholic faith truly became a central part of their culture and its influence began to strengthen during the Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999. Predominantly Muslim, the Indonesian state required adherence to one of five officially recognised religions and did not recognise traditional animist beliefs. The Church was seen as a safe haven and became a refuge for East Timorese seeking sanctuary from persecution. The Catholic Church remained directly responsible to the Vatican throughout Indonesian rule.


Despite the Timorese peoples growing allegiance to the Catholic Church, there is also a long tradition of animist spiritualism in Timor. Animist beliefs and practices provide the background for the creation of legends and myths passed on from generation to generation. Animist rituals and traditions coexist peacefully with the Catholic Faith, contributing to the Timorese people’s rich cultural palette. Only a minority of local Christians can be considered as having no animist beliefs. Animist religion in Timor-Leste revolves around the spirits of the dead who are both feared and worshipped. These spirits are materialized through stones, animals, wells, streams or objects endowed with mysterious magical powers that can be either good or evil. In Timor these are called ‘Luliks’, which means sacred and intangible


All over Timor Leste there are beautiful religious statues, shrines and grottos. In almost every village you will find crucifixes marking the Stations of the Cross. These very Catholic monuments are often situated near areas that already had spiritual significance for the Timorese. The most well known is the massive 27 metre tall statue of Christ, the Cristo Rei, just outside of Dili. In an effort to demonstrate religious tolerance and goodwill Indonesia erected the massive statue of Christ as a gift to the East Timorese people. It was built by Indonesian army engineers and officially unveiled by Suharto in 1995.


The statue and the globe on which it rests is high on Cape Fatucama a hill at the eastern tip of Dili Harbor which can be reached by climbing around 600 steps. The walk up to the top of the hill is lined with the 14 Stations of the Cross. It has been noted by some that the statue does not face Catholic Timor Leste, but looks west with open arms in the direction of Jakarta. The statue is one of the main tourist sites in East Timor. The view is spectacular and, once at the top, you can see over Dili and across to Atauro Island. On the way down at one of the designated rest points, you can see way, way down the coast towards Manututo and the jungle covered cliffs that lead to Soibada.


Tetum Words of the Week

Bailoron    dry season

Tempu udan   rainy (monsoon) season

Timor Leste Facts

It is a tropical island 8 degrees south of the Equator.

It consists of the main island, Atauro Island, Jaco Island and the enclave of Oe-Cussi set within West Timor (Indonesia).

The country has two main seasons, the wet and the dry Season.

The average temperature is 32º Celsius although up in the highlands the temperature can drop to very cold at night.