By Dianne Woo, with photographs by Heather Henderson.
Xanana Gusmao, the charismatic former Prime Minister of East Timor, is a legend in his country. When Atabae’s Community Education Team, led by Palms’ volunteer, Heather Henderson, attended the opening of the historic Balibo Fort Hotel in Bobonaro Province, they were delighted to see that he was Guest of Honour.
Mr Gusmao, 68, who was also President of East Timor and is now Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment, was a resistance fighter who fought pro-Indonesian forces to ultimately secure the nation’s independence in 2002. He is highly respected and admired in East Timor for his commitment to the country and his easy affability with everyone, from village to city.
During his visit to the Balibo Fort Hotel, Mr Gusmao enthusiastically agreed to be photographed with the excited Atabae team. English trainer Maria was even more surprised, and thrilled, when he kissed her on the forehead!
Heather and her team had been invited to Balibo opening by Palms’ volunteer, Leanne Hayes, who is working with the local community to develop skills and knowledge-based applications at the Balibo Community Learning Centre. In the course of her work, Leanne has developed a strong collaborative relationship with the Balibo House Trust, which was behind the restoration of the 374-year-old Portuguese fort and its adjoining hotel.
Balibo is a name which resonates with many Australians because of its association with the Balibo Five, a group of Australian journalists who were murdered, in the course of their work, by Indonesian forces in 1975. The mission of the Balibo House Trust is to honour the memories of the Balibo Five by enriching the lives and livelihoods of the Balibo people. Its Patron is Steve Bracks, the former Premier of Victoria from 1999 to 2007.
Also attending the Balibo Fort Hotel’s official opening was Trust Director, Shirley Shackleton, widow of slain journalist, Greg Shackleton. Mrs Shackleton described the event as “a wonderful day” which put the spotlight on the Timorese people. She was very happy to pose with the Atabae Community Education Team, who departed saying that it had indeed been a memorable day.
Dianne Woo, from Clagiraba QLD, recently arrived in the Atabae Community, Timor Leste where she volunteers as Community Development Officer. Heather Henderson is now completing her placement at Atabae where she has volunteered since April 2013. Leanne Hayes has been working with the Balibo Community since February 2013 as volunteer Institutional Development Officer, building the capacity of staff at the Community Centre, conducting training and co-ordination community development projects.