Who are Friends of Soibada?
Where did we start?
Founded in 2010, an idea sparked by primary school students, Friends of Soibada is a volunteer led non-for-profit charity based in the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Our mission is to empower the community of Soibada, in Timor-Leste, through sustainable development. Operating for over 10 years we have sponsored Soibada in various development programs, such as Days for Girls, the construction of a training centre and hospitality training centre and many other ongoing projects.
Our founder and chairperson, Tamara Sloper Harding, served in the peacemaking task force, INTERFET, in Timor-Leste in 1999. This evoked her bond with the country and in-turn ignited her passion to strive to aid them in overcoming the poverty they face and the restrictions that this incurs.
“In 2009 I was speaking to a class of students at Maria Regina Catholic Primary School about ANZAC Day and my life in the Australian Defence Force. The children were very inquisitive and interested in my deployments and operations overseas. To bring the focus back to peacekeeping I told them about my time in East Timor.
They were fascinated and obviously moved by the stories of the little children over there. The school then invited me back to speak about Timor because the students wanted to do something to help people over there. With the assistance of the teachers we began the process to identify a school in Timor that Maria Regina could link with. I contacted Kirsty Sword Gusmao (Australian born former first lady of Timor Leste) and His Excellency Abel Guterres the then Ambassador. They both came to speak at school.
I remember so clearly the assembly where Abel had been explaining to the children the different types of food he had survived on as a child during the Indonesian occupation. Afterwards, we walking over to Avalon RSL for lunch and as we crossed Dunbar Park, Abel looked at me and said "You could do so much more than merely linking two schools. You could link the two communities in friendship”.
I shook my head and said “no way”
I had four very young children and was flat out. However, something clicked in me and before we reached the far side of the park I had agreed to do it.”
- Tamara Sloper Harding (chairperson)
Where is it?
What is the impact of war?
Why do they need our help?
Soibada, in the mountains of Timor Leste, just North of Darwin, was once a prosperous town and a hub of education. During 25 years of brutal occupation, the people struggled for freedom. As many as 200,000 people perished in the fighting, massacres and forced starvation. Read more about the ancient history as well as the modern history of Timor Leste at the Tourism Timor-Leste website.
The destruction has set the community back decades. The standard of living is now not as good as it was in the 1950s. Although freedom has been approached following the 1999 East Timorese independence referendum, this landmark alone has not been enough.
After WW2 Australia promised the Timorese we would support them as they supported our troops that had been abandoned on the island. We told them that we would not forget them. We have let them down countless times in the years since. We owe them a debt of honour. Friends of Soibada hopes to begin paying this debt whilst forging an unbreakable bond with one of our closer sister countries and the people within.
INTERFET peacekeepers landed on the basketball court just down from the church in Soibada.
Friends of Soibada recognise that education is the key to independence and sustainability; the key to true freedom. Although much progress has been made, the road to rebuild is long, taking 5 years to rebuild to the pre-war standard of living for every year of conflict.
Friends of Soibada has been working in partnership with the local community of Soibada since 2010 to move towards freedom on all fronts. The succesful relationship is evident in numerous projects from education, maternal health, girls hygiene (Days for Girls) to the provision of medical resources and sanitation and water projects.
One of our most recent projects is the construction of a Training Centre for Arts, Craft and Culture which is providing a much needed learning environment. Here, local students are taught many skills which will provide business opportunities in the burgeoning tourism industry. It will empower the local community to work, train, feed and educate their families.
The construction of the Training Centre for Arts, Craft, and Culture in Soibada.
Although Soibada has come so far there is still much work to be done. Currently, there are several projects in motion which have been born from the friendship between Friends of Soibada and Friends of Pittwater (A Soibada based community group who communicate directly to us and lead our projects and their prioritisation). Education and infrastructure across all fields continues to be our priority. Even now we are moving to enact school and medical based educational projects, which we (Friends of Soibada and Friends of Pittwater) believe will help narrow the gap in the standard of living gorged in Timor-Leste by a recent bloody and horrific war for Independence.
Through friendship, lives are changed
Article - Why Soibada As A Sister Village For The Northern Beaches? - Pittwater online news
Article - Elijah Thomson - Pittwater online news
Article - Pittwater Friends Of Soibada: Celebrating 10 Years - Pittwater online news
Donation page - Building the Futures of Families in Soibada - chuffed