Magdalena Bidau Soares
Magdalena Bidau Soares is a peace activist and former guerrilla fighter from Timor-Leste. During the war in 1975, she fled her village as a refugee; it was then that she trained as a guerrilla fighter in the mountains of Timor-Leste, learning combat techniques, how to conduct an ambush, reassemble rifles and make gunpowder. During this period, Magdalena was shot, captured, tortured and imprisoned. Upon her release, she joined the clandestine resistance movement for women “Popular Women’s Organisation Timor” (OPMT).
Since the cessation of hostilities in 1999, Magdalena transitioned to a peace activist and has devoted her life to improving the well-being of those in her community. She founded Feto Haluk Hadomi Timor for the widows of ex-combatants, providing training and projects for them to learn sewing, basket weaving, crop-growing, and other income-generating activities. She plans to construct a road to link her village with others so that the communities can connect and sell their products at the markets too.
Even though Magdalena is illiterate, it has not stopped her from founding a pre-school and a junior school for children. Operating on a shoestring budget, these schools offer the only local educational opportunities for young children, particularly girls, in her area.
Magdalena continues to dedicate her life to the ongoing struggle for peace, unity and women’s rights in Timor-Leste. She says, “we have fought for our freedom, and now we have got our freedom, we have to fulfill the freedom with development, to leave it for our children and grandchildren”.