August 11 - 17, 2019: Issue 416


Soibada Update – We’re back!

The team of volunteers from the Northern Beaches returned from Timor Leste last week. There is no doubt it was the most productive visit to Soibada yet and covered an array of different projects. The support of the Northern Beaches community was integral in the success of all our endeavours. In the coming weeks I will provide updates on each project and talk about some new ones generated by the local community. It is very exciting and very challenging!

It is genuinely a joint community effort and numerous people make a difference without even leaving the beaches. Help comes from many different facets of our community. Avalon Beach RSL Club provided the transport to the airport for our group at 0530 on the Sunday morning. We did get some funny looks as we pulled up at the terminal. It became even more hilarious as we unloaded bag after bag. We were inundated with donations of much needed medical supplies and Lyclear cream to help combat the rampant scabies epidemic throughout the village. In the last few months talented knitters and crocheters have tirelessly produced baby clothes and blankets  to go into the Baby Bags gifted to new mothers to entice them to give birth at the clinic. Thanks goes out to the generous folk who donated new baby clothing and other items for the bags.

For the last ten years QANTAS have generously granted us excess baggage waivers to enable us to carry all the donations. Unfortunately, due to rising fuel costs, this just wasn’t possible this time. In typical Northern Beaches style our community rallied to our aid! Last minute donations flooded the bank account in to help us cover the costs of the excess and Avalon resident Monique Roberts even turned up at the airport to help us check in. It  was a long and drawn out process and we just made the flight to Darwin. I sighed with relief and a touch of dread as I contemplated doing this all again the next morning with AirNorth for the Darwin to Dili leg of the journey. In true military fashion I asked the team to meet in the hotel foyer at 0300 to head to the Airport. Luckily this time things went smoothly…….

There are advantages now that these visits are a regular occurrence. We have become a familiar sight at Dili Airport. In the cool of the early hours of the morning we disembarked the small plane on the tarmac and made our way under the “Welcome to Timor Leste” sign we were not only greeted by swarms of buzzing mosquitoes but also by smiles and friendly waves from the many airport staff who recognise us these days. The unique smell of the tropics wafted past as we stood in line to pay for our visas. $30 US paid on arrival will get you a visa for 30 days. A letter from the Timorese Ambassador to Australia helped us get the donated items through customs quickly.

We had made it and so had all our luggage! Our regular driver, Miguel and our volunteer translators Fecky and Ajay were waiting outside. The real adventure was about to begin. Nothing happens quickly in Timor Leste as we were soon to discover as we shopped for supplies and equipment to take to Soibada. Water, rice and toilet paper is always on the top of our list. Even ordinary activities can present quite a challenge (mostly die to our lack of language skills). Next stop, the new Timor Plaza for sim cards, school supplies baby stuff. 

Peter Randazzo was running the water project for the maternity clinic in Soibada. He had been liaising with the Hardware Store in Dili for months prior and they had everything, including two water tanks, ready for us to collect. It certainly wasn’t a Johnson Bros Mitre 10 – but it was surprisingly well stocked – we spent a good three hours there! Some of the group disappeared to the Tais market to purchase items to sell at future market days back in Australia while the rest of us tried to purchase any equipment we would need once we got the village.

As Dili grows more shops open. There is even a fabric store to rival Spotlight. A quick stop there ensured we had enough materials to make more sanitary pads and menstrual bracelets with the volunteers in the village.

That evening we were honoured to be dinner guests of the Patron of Friends of Soibada, His Excellency, Dr Jose Ramos Horta, Nobel Peace Laureate and former President and Prime Minister of Timor Leste. He takes a keen interest in our work in Soibada as he went to school there as a young boy. He spoke to us of world events and Timor’s history, of the path he sees for the future and how friendship partnerships like ours can help our countries grow.

Patron of Friends of Soibada, His Excellency, Dr Jose Ramos Horta

We had an early start  the next morning to head up to Soibada. This would be the last time we had running water and flushing toilets for quite a while. It felt like we had already been in Timor Leste for several days as we made our way back to our very basic but clean hotel rooms. The drivers promised to meet us in the carpark at 0500 the next morning as we headed to our beds.

There will be more news on how the projects progressed in the village next week. In the meantime  have a look at the Friends of Soibada Facebook page to see all the latest photographs. 

Please join us for the next fundraiser! There will be  full update at the event on 24th August at Avalon RSL and we would love to see you there!

Tamara Sloper-Harding OAM
Ph: 0403 226 699
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Disco For Soibada - August 24th

Saturday, August 24, 2019 at 7 PM – 11 PM
Avalon Beach RSL Club
1 Bowling Green Lane, Avalon, New South Wales, Australia 2107
Hosted by Pittwater Friends Of Soibada
Tickets · $35 BOOK HERE