Soibada Update: 20 Years Later
As I write this I am in Katoomba celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. These days 20 years is an achievement in itself, but when I reflect on the way our marriage started it is a kind of miracle. In just over a week I go back to Timor Leste. It is a lot earlier than my usual October trip but it is significant that I am there for the anniversary of the landing of the Interfet Peacekeeping force.
Twenty years ago this month I married my husband Adrian.
During the reception I received the phone call that changed my life - and the lives of anyone I know well.
Within days I left him to be part of the peacekeeping force, INTERFET, that went over to Timor Leste in September 1999. I hope he has finally forgiven me!
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 at so many different levels. The amount of support we are receive from this community is absolutely tremendous.
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.
In Timor Leste in 1999
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 women's 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.
It was a pretty intense experience and not the type of situation I was trained to deal with. I witnessed things that changed my life and gave me the drive to help. At the time I never imagined that I would still be going back each year 20 years on. My family, my friends and my community have supported me and the people of the village of Soibada for the last ten years since we became a registered charity. I now devote my life to paying back some of Australia’s debt to Timor Leste.
As an organisation Pittwater Friends of Soibada has flourished. That is due to the commitment and drive of members of our community. We have grown and achieved some amazing results. However, to make the next step forward we need help. Please share this crowdfunding campaign to all of your networks. Small donations make such a huge difference.
If you want to hear a bit more about why I do what I do and why I need you to help me, please have a listen to this Podcast.
Tamara Sloper-Harding OAM
Chairperson Pittwater Friends of Soibada