I was in the Navy for almost 19 years. In 1999 when I served in Dili, Timor Leste with INTERFET I began a journey that changed my life. The call telling me to deploy came during our wedding reception – just before the speeches. I didn’t really comprehend the journey of friendship I was embarking on, nor did I anticipate the love I would grow to feel for the Timorese.
Dili was burning. I will never erase the smell and sight of the devastation from my mind. Exposure to the sufferings of civilians after the atrocities committed during their struggle for independence compelled me to help. The results of the years of occupation and violence were seared into my memory. However, until I had four children of my own I didn’t truly understand the full impact upon the women and children. The privilege of getting to know these people enabled me to feel the true courage and strength of the Timorese spirit. The outcome is the charity Pittwater Friends of Soibada Inc.
Timor-Leste, only one hour’s flight from Darwin, one of the world’s newest nations and the poorest country in our region. During the Indonesian occupation 90% of school infrastructure was destroyed. There are high rates of illiteracy and extreme poverty. The country has one of the highest rates of population growth in the world and the average age is only 17. Children face huge challenges in their right to life, survival and development. Rapid population growth has created a significant future demand for more teachers, classrooms and education spending throughout the country.
The relationship between Timor Leste and Australia has been in the news a lot recently and unfortunately it is not always something we can be proud of. Australia has had ties to East Timor for far longer than most of us know. We promised them friendship and protection ……. But we let them down.
We must endeavour to honour the debt we have to the Timorese people. In WW2 over 40,000 East Timorese died as a result of assisting Australian soldiers. No other nation has lost so many civilians as a result of helping our troops. We forgot them in 1975 when the Indonesians invaded, killing at least 200,000 East Timorese in the 25 years of occupation.
In 2010 some primary school children in Avalon decided to help pay back that debt and assist the children in the village of Soibada. Funding the construction of a senior high school will be the step out of poverty they need. We want to empower the people of Soibada to resurrect their own village and their lives. Education is the key.
How are we going to do it?
The project will provide Soibada with an appropriate local senior high school facility that will increase the percentage of students continuing school after primary school and junior high school. The building will be constructed by qualified local builders and tradesman and create numerous jobs in Soibada.
The school will follow the national curriculum set by the Timor Leste Minister of Education. The new senior high school will serve as a learning centre for not just senior high school students but also as a facility for community education and development programs.
- Children will be provided with essential educational services.
- They will have access to nutritional food and increased sanitation and hygiene.
- Community members will have access to further education and training outside school hours. There will be opportunity for parents education about health and nutrition
- There are numerous positive environmental implications – construction of toilets, gardens, water tanks and purification system.
- Jobs and appropriate training will be available for potential staff.
Please help me honour the memory of the Australian Diggers befriended by the Timorese in WW2 by fulfilling Australia’s promises of help.