It’s not common for the Prime Minister of a nation to take photos of himself in a MAF aeroplane. But this is what occurred on July 18th of this year in Timor-Leste, as the Prime Minister, Doctor Rui Maria de Araújo flew on VH-MTX to Suai to attend a celebration of the work Timor Aid has been doing in the area.

“Timor Aid has been working in Suai since 1999, right after the post-referendum period, with a number of emergency and relief programs to assist the people displaced by post-referendum violence. As the general political situation improved, Timor Aid started focusing on the preservation and promotion of Timor-Leste’s cultural heritage,” Florentino Sarmento, Chief Executive Officer of Timor Aid explains.

Since 2012, Timor Aid has been working with international experts to conduct research and document the cultural heritage of the region, which includes textiles, potteries, language and oral tradition, music, dances and sacred places and sites. The results of this research has been documented in books, CDs and DVDs. This work of Timor Aid is sponsored by the Government of Timor Leste, the European Commission, and the Prince Claus Fund, originating in the Netherlands.

pm-and-staffOn July 18th Timor Aid had planned for an exhibition to feature the main motifs of Suai textiles and their function in society and culture. Mr. Sarmento said, “The ceremony was of great importance and the Prime Minister had agreed to lead the ceremony and hand over to the community the documentation of their cultural heritage.” The staff from Timor Aid battled rough and winding roads earlier in the month to be in Suai to prepare for the celebrations. The plan was for the Prime Minister to drive to the region for the ceremony, until the rains came. Florentino Sarmento, Chief Executive Officer of Timor Aid explains, there were “landslides, roads were cut off and fallen bridges caused by the floods, denied access by land to reach Suai.”pm-and-jon

This was where MAF was able to assist Timor Aid, the Prime Minister and his staff. Timor Aid was able to charter the MAF plane to allow the Prime Minister and his staff to travel to Suai for the planned celebration. Mr. Sarmento said, “The MAF plane was vital to fly the Prime Minister and his entourage to Suai which had been isolated and could not be reached by land transportation due to floods caused by heavy intense rains during the second week of July.”

During the flight to Suai, Jonathan Lowe, pilot and Program Manager of the Timor-Leste Program was able to fly over the damaged bridges to show the Prime Minister and his staff how the reconstruction of the bridge was

The actual ceremony in Suai was a public exhibition, with the theme of, “Know our World” or “Hetene ami nia Moris’.The opening ceremony was attended by approximately three hundred people including the Secretary of State for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Vice Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, top government officials of the Suai Municipality, religious leaders, students, community elders and leaders, the weavers and members of the Suai Camenaça community.

In his speech, Prime Minister, Doctor Rui Maria de Araújo thanked Timor Aid and partners for taking the very challenging job to research and document the cultural heritage of Suai. He said, “we Timorese are distinguished from other peoples and nations because we have our own cultural identity.The act to give back to the community the results of the research is of utmost importance because the communities of Suai Camenaça are the origin, the roots and the owners of their living cultural heritage. The culture of Suai can be compared to a root of a tree with its own branch. Other roots and branches are the culture of other communities from other parts of Timor-Leste. When all of the roots and branches are assembled together, they form only one big (cultural) tree which is Timor-Leste”.

Later in the day MAF Timor-Leste staff were excited to see that the Prime Minister had shared photos of himself in their plane on his Facebook page. He also included photos of the bridges that were being repaired. With his photos, the Prime Minister also commented on his flight with MAF that day. “It was an exciting experience, and am looking forward to flying with you again sometime in the near future.”