SOIBADA – TRAINING CENTRE AND GUEST HOUSE
The Sub District of Soibada is made up of many smaller villages called Sucos. They are spread through the surrounding hillsides. In our efforts to help the people of Soibada we attempt to assist each of these small communities and ensure our friendship benefits each one equally. This can be quite an onerous task. There is so much need it is often difficult to know where to begin.
We must rely on the local community to guide us. They see the benefit of education as the key to future development. Father Tiago da Costa Soares, the parish priest, is the project manager for what is our biggest endeavour to date.
In the Suco of Leo Hat we have funded, with the help of the people of the northern Beaches, the construction of the Training Centre and Guest house. The project has taken three years whilst we facilitated training and employed many locals. We have been welcomed into the family that resides nearby. The two story building consists of bedrooms, bathrooms, and a large room to run workshops or hold meetings. In the future the rooms will be rented out to tourists and generate income. This will also provide job opportunities for the young people being trained in hospitality. The fact that the project was the initiative of the local community ensures it’s success.
It is the perfect venue for volunteers from Australia to stay and run educational courses. Last year we began working closely with local women who have established several craft co-operatives. The handcrafted goods they make and sell helps them earn the money needed to feed and clothe their families. We provide the supplies for their projects from Australia or purchase them in Dili, the capital city. The women are expert at crocheting. It was a skill brought to the island by the Portuguese. They make jewellery and do exquisite cross stitch embroidery. They need guidance in sales and marketing. I am their best customer as I bring most of their produce back here to sell at local markets. The aim is to one day have the items available in local shops here on the Northern Beaches.
In the Training Centre this July we will be running Lino Printing Workshops, Macrame, Knitting and Jewellery Making courses. Days for Girls sewing workshops will teach resident volunteers how to make reusable hygiene kits. CPR and First Aid training is also run from the centre. We are always seeking skilled volunteers to run a program in the village! There is still work to be done to bring the accommodation up to the standard needed to generate an income from tourism. That will be addressed in coming months with the help of Rae Masman, one of our volunteers from Bayview. Rae and the local women will be making curtains and bedspreads to render the sparse rooms more comfortable.
Last year the women from the Suco of Tasi Fatin walked four hours through the jungle in the rain to do a workshop with us in Leo Hat. There remains a little finishing off to be done in the centre, some painting and furnishing but it will not take long to raise the funds to make it happen. To see the facility being used to benefit the community has made all the fundraising efforts worthwhile.
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SOIBADA AND OUR ANZAC LINKS
Anzac Day causes us to pause and reflect on the sacrifice made by those that came before us so that we can live in peace and freedom. Our military, and thus our nation, is tied to Timor Leste in far deeper ways than most of us know. Australia has had links with not just the country, but with the town of Soibada, since WW2. Australian soldiers were deployed to what was then the neutral island of Portuguese Timor to deter the enemy forces invading from the North and to prevent them landing in Darwin. If our troops were not already in Timor their foe would never have assaulted the island. Regardless, the people of Timor protected our soldiers from the attackers. Young Australians were hidden in dirt floored homes made of palm leaves and in Portuguese stone churches. The women nursed their wounds and the men provided food. Timorese boys, known as Criados, mostly between 10 and 16 years of age, escorted the Aussies through the jungle to safety.
from Debt of Honour- Rex Lipman
When it became necessary for Australia to evacuate our men we promised to stand by our friends in Timor. We guaranteed to be there for them always. Australia would never forget our friends. Leaflets in Portuguese were dropped from aircraft making false promises. The Aussie soldiers knew that the Timorese would pay dearly for protecting them. Many soldiers tried to bring their saviours to safety on Australian shores. In reprisal over 40,000 Timorese people were slaughtered by the enemy.
The current Parish Priest in Soibada, Father Tiago, has regaled us with stories of his grandfather’s clandestine work with Australian soldiers during the war, in the jungle near Soibada. Many of the families in the village had relatives entrenched in the secret network protecting our troops. Australia has a debt to Timor Leste – a debt we left owing when they were again invaded in 1975. We stood by as neighbours doing nothing to stop the slaughter of over 200,000 Timorese people by the occupying forces. It was not until 1999 when we sent our troops as part of the peace making force that we came close to living up to our promises of steadfast friendship and protection…
It is now, here in our community, in our clubs and in our schools, as we give assistance to those in Soibada that we begin, little by little, to fulfil our pledge of friendship and aid.
Tamara Sloper-Harding OAM