Eddie De Pina was born in what was then known as East Timor. He fled his homeland with his parents and some of his siblings when Indonesian troops invaded his country in 1975. He was only 10 years old. It would be another 25 years before he stepped back onto Timorese soil.
Arriving in Western Australia as a young refugee, Eddie initially lived and volunteered at the Leeuwin Military Barracks in Fremantle whilst attending John XXIII College, a co-educational school in Claremont. Eddie was grieving the loss of his older brother who had been murdered during the invasion, his sister who was missing and presumed dead and many friends and family who had fallen victim to the atrocities of the civil war.
In his mid-thirties, now an Australian citizen, he continued to volunteer to assist a new wave of Timorese evacuees at the military base. When the civil war ended in 1999 and the West Australian Government gave the remaining refugees an ultimatum to return to East Timor or be moved to a new base in Sydney, Eddie chose to follow his heart and return to East Timor with his people.
Acknowledging his own fortune in receiving a quality education back in Australia, Eddie was keen to use this gift to benefit the people of East Timor. His school motto had been to ‘Seek Justice’ and he was determined to help rebuild his country to ensure his people were able to live fulfilling lives once again, free from harm and oppression.
“If these children get education, it’s not only good for them but good for their family, good for their village and good for the nation.
Some of those who couldn’t finish school, they want to come and help build the new school in Same for their brothers and sisters.
That’s what this is all about …people trying to help themselves. All they need is that opportunity to fulfil their hopes and their dreams.”– Eddie De Pina
Since his return, Eddie has been instrumental in building community programs and centres that aim to empower and support the Timorese. The Bakhita Centre, a community initiative established by Eddie, is recognised as the first charitable organisation to be registered in East Timor.
In 2013, Eddie crossed paths with 14-year-old Ornella Byak when she first visited the country with her mother. Eddie was struck by Ornella’s desire to help address the lack of educational opportunities in the country.
Eddie gave the young Australian student some advice: In order to help the Timorese, he told her, first she must study and get a proper education. ‘‘Look after yourself first, stabilise yourself and then you can help others. She finished high school and then she finished university. She’s a good role model for education.’’
So says BETTER’s local partner: the inspiring man Ornella now calls ‘my Timor dad’.
“Eddie’s philosophy has always been to foster, encourage and provide education for local people to be part of the rebuilding of their country. Eddie’s work has seen the Bahkita Centre develop from a simple community group to a thriving establishment …”– Paul Harris Fellow awarded to Eddie by the Rotary Club of Warnambool East (Victoria)
To learn more about Eddie and the rest of our Founders, read https://bettertimor.org/about-us/our-founders/