Damien Kingsbury and Grazyna Zajdow made the first visits as ‘Friends of Balibo’ to Balibo on Saturday 13 December. The visit followed a visit to meet the program manager of the Timor-Leste NGO Belun, Luis Ximines, and future Belun Balibo worker Feliciano da Costa Araujo, who will take over from World Visions T-L in assisting coordination and development of the Balibo Flag House project.
Damien and Grazyna arrived in Balibo after a long drive from Dili through Ermera, Hatolia and a night in Maliana, before arriving at Balibo the following morning. For those who have not done this drive, it offers some of the most breath-taking scenery in an already breath-takingly beautiful country. The view from above Hatilia of the junctions of three rivers at the foot of the mountains is one of the world’s most magical.
Damien and Grazyna were met at the Balibo Flag House by the recently elected coordinator of the Balibo Flag House Committee of Management, Rogerio Goncalves, and a small welcoming party, where they discussed some options for local development.
In particular, the Flag House Committee is keen to receive technical and training support for its computer project. It has some computers in a dedicated room, but irregular electricity (there is a generator but it costs money to run) and no telephone/data connection to allow the internet. The committee would also like to receive training in the use of the computers and the internet. There has been discussion by the Balibo House Trust about the possibility of such support being provided by Andrew Maher of InfoXchange Australia, which has assisted with a similar project at the Friends of Baucau-supported community house in Baucau.
Rogerio also noted to Damien and Grazyna that while the Flag House had a small motorcycle workshop and some basic tools, its mechanics required training. The furniture making workshop associated with the Flag House, though, appeared to be working well, producing household furniture for local consumption. The nearby crèche associated with the Flag House currently looks after 27 children.
The group also discussed the possibility of establishing a homestay in Balibo, to be able to offer accommodation to foreigners who might wish to visit Balibo and its sub-district. The house located in the old Portuguese fort was considered as a possible site, and this idea was later supported in principle by the Director of State Administration, Snr Abilio Caetano.
Formal government approval will need to be arranged, along with ensuring that the house is in a condition to have guests before this idea can progress. But there was general support for it, and the idea of a poussada in Balibo, even if smaller than that of Maubisse and Bauacau, would assist in attracting some of Timor-Leste’s small but growing tourism trade. Further, not only would visitors be able to stay at Balibo, rather than at Maliana more than a half an hour’s drive away, but they would also be able to use Balibo as a base to explore the region, including the local villages such as Cova near the Indonesian border, and the old fort at Batu Gade on the coast.
The visit by Damien and Grazyna was a first, tentative step in making links to give substance to a Friendship arrangement with Balibo. But if the warmth and level of agreement on both sides was any indication, the Friends of Balibo may well have a promising future.