Topu Honis is a Shelter Home situated in East Timor in the isolated enclave of Oecussi, accessible only by a 12 hour ferry trip.
Oecussi is surrounded by West Timor and if visited by land requires visas in and out of the two countries. It is isolated and often forgotten or overlooked by the East Timorese Government and many Aid organizations.
Topu Honis was established by Father Richard Dashbach, a Catholic priest, who has been ministering in the enclave of Oecussi since 1966. There are two sites; one in Mahata on the coast that is a home to adolescents of Secondary school age. The majority of the adolescents attend either the local Secondary school or Catholic school (the only secondary schools available to the children in the enclave). The second site is at Kutet, located one and a half hours drive from the coast (dry weather access) and is home to the Primary school age children.
Topu Honis houses over 120 children on the two sites and is home and refuge to both children and adults for a number of reasons: be it as orphans, dislocated families, reasons of abuse or rejected members of villages or families.
There are any references to Topu Honis to be found on the internet. Here we have extracted the following account from mpainesyd.com/filechute/topu_honis.pdf which is the actual handbook to Topu Honis.
In Meto, Oecussi’s little-known tongue, Topu means ‘to lead by the hand’ and Honis means ‘life’. The people of Oecussi pride themselves on hospitality and kindness to strangers, and love receiving visitors from the West.
“They are very honest, open and responsive to strangers. You just know they are good decent people,” says Janet Mitchell, an Australian policewoman stationed with the international peace-keeping force in Dili, who adopted a two-year-old girl from Kutet. “It makes you see that people are decent and there’s a lot of good in the world.”
There’s a small, unsealed road linking Kutet to the port town of Mahata, but most people get there by walking four hours up a steep but breathtakingly beautiful path cut through the jungle. It crosses river- beds, waterfalls and a 700-metre-high summit, before descending into a valley shadowed by mountaintops.
There are currently 93 children living at Topu Honis Kutet. They are not necessarily orphans in the traditional sense, as Father Richard explains. “It’s not really an orphanage – it’s safe house,” he says. “In an orphanage, the children’s parents are completely out of the picture. With some of the kids here, their parents have died. But in most cases, their mothers were widowed and remarried, and they couldn’t take the kids because the new husband considers them a burden. In these situations, the children are passed on to extended family, though not as equals. They get treated like workhorses, like second-class citizens. They won’t starve but have very limited opportunities in life.
“So we accommodate them… provide them with food, shelter, education and medical care,” he said. (Father Richard also acts as Kutet’s doctor, referring to medical books and dispensing medicines for free). “Often they’ll go visit their mothers. They can leave any time they want and they can come back anytime. But the decision must be theirs; they must want to stay.
“It’s the same with our staff,” he continued. “We have 14 women working here. Some are widows who don’t have a place to go, can’t get remarried, or are deaf or have learning disabilities. Some even stay here with their kids. We can’t afford to pay them, but they receive free board and a stipend of $25 per month.”