Address at Songs for Soibada-II
In 1999 I began a journey, a journey I wasn’t too keen on taking at the time, but it was something that changed the course of my life and has had much more far reaching consequences than I ever envisaged. It was the path to a friendship that was to develop not just between me and the small village of Soibada in Timor Leste but a friendship that has grown to embrace the entire community of Pittwater at so many different levels. The amount of support we are receiving from this community is absolutely tremendous.
I have recently returned from my fourth visit to Timor Leste, my first with the team from the Pittwater Friends of Soibada group. When I served there in 1999 with INTERFET as an Intelligence Officer attached to the ground force, conditions were extremely basic and the environment was high threat. I received the phone call telling me to deploy during our wedding reception – just before the speeches!
My exposure to the sufferings of the civilian population following the atrocities during the Timorese struggle for independence has lead to my desire to provide assistance. I became involved with orphanages, schools and local womens groups. I witnessed the results of the years of occupation and violence in Timor Leste and felt the true courage and strength of the Timorese spirit. However, I did not truly understand the full impact upon the women and children until I had children of my own. I also did not fully comprehend the journey of friendship I was embarking on in 1999, nor did I anticipate the love I would grow to feel for the Timorese people.
Australia has had ties to Timor Leste 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.
The Pittwater Community’s commitment to assisting Timor Leste began a couple of years ago at Maria Regina Primary School. With the support of the local churches, community groups and that of Pittwater Council it has since grown to encompass the wider community.
Last year we formalized our friendship agreement with Soibada. It has been established in accordance with the Statement of Principles for Local Governments Working in Timor-Leste. Any projects to be implemented in Soibada will be determined by the Soibada community in communication with the Friends of Soibada project.
Soibada is very remote, and breathtakingly beautiful, high in the mountains, it was originally built by the Portuguese. It has few resources and was devastated by past occupation by Indonesian and militia groups and subsequent turmoil following Independence. There are no bridges to Soibada, so during the rainy season the town is completely cut off.
It is 135km from the capital, Dili. On a good day it takes about four and a half hours to get there by 4 wheel drive on unsurfaced extremely winding roads. This series of interconnected potholes, called a road, is the village’s only link to the outside world.
Our initial focus will be on sanitation and education. During the visit we prioritized the tasks that lay ahead and sourced materials. We will start with the school toilets and education programs for the community with the assistance of Timorese run NGOs. We will also commence sending volunteer medical and teaching personnel from Pittwater over to the village to mentor the locals. Eventually we will build a community centre and market place.
The people of Soibada have access to resources and tradesmen qualified to restore the old damaged buildings of the school. However, they have no funds to do this. Fundraising will be a good way to begin our contribution. 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. Thus restoring their dignity and giving the people a sense of ownership of the facilities that we fund.
The development of the friendship between Pittwater and the village of Soibada is already having very positives implications for both communities. Since hearing of our project several other schools in Sydney are now approaching their local councils with a plan to join in friendship with a village in Timor Leste.
I am very privileged to be involved in this project and we have a fantastic enthusiastic team from the Pittwater Community.
This relationship is about far more than raising funds and doing charitable deeds. It is about the growth of lasting friendship and sustainable development. It is about empowering the people of Soibada to resurrect their own village and their lives. The future of Soibada is bright and full of promise. With our help, the village will regain its former capability as a respected place of education.
With your support we will change the future for the children of Soibada by helping them to help themselves.
As Mother Teresa said;
Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go.