Fr. Richard Daschbach, SVD
Fr. Richard Daschback, SVD, is originally from Pittsburgh, PA. He professed First Vows as a Divine Word Missionary in 1954 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964. Fr. Richard founded the children’s home in East Timor and continues to shepherd it.
Forty years ago, one waif in need was helped. Soon there were two, then three, and Topu Honis Children’s Home was born. Topu Honis
, which means “Guide to Life,” was always small and informal. It began imperceptibly and grew gradually within the normal life of the mountain village of Kutet.
At the time of the 1999 hostilities in East Timor, our place was totally destroyed. All but eleven of the
children decided to move with us when we sought refuge in the mountains, under trees, and in caves. When independence came in
2002 and conditions normalized, we returned to Kutet, where the people gave us a bigger piece of land in a new location on which to rebuild. Before 1999, we had the foresight to buy land down on the coast near Oekusi. In time, we erected facilities for older youth on the property.
We operate on a shoestring budget, just managing to stay afloat. The wiser financial course would be to care for fewer children with a better facility and more financial security. We choose to be unwise and take in many needy children. Topu Honis is by no means fancy, but the kids are much better off with us than they would be in difficult and unsatisfactory home situations. Kids are not committed to us. They either come on their own or are brought in by relatives. Kids are always free to leave at any time, and anyone who leaves is also free to return. We do not consider ourselves an orphanage. Rather, we are a safe haven.
We model our homes on the Timorese village. Our homes in Kutet and Oekusi are in the middle of villages, a kind of village within a village. Our motto is: “Trying our best to be second best.” Clearly, the “first best” is a healthy, wholesome, intact family. When that is not possible or it is not happening, we are the back-up.
Since the local school in Kutet only goes to the fourth grade, the children complete the remaining grades in Oekusi, where the village school offers classes from fifth to twelfth grades. Many children stay with us until they finish high school.
Vegetables are an important source of protein and vitamins and that is what makes our gardens so important. The diet of most villagers is very poor. Often when children come to us, they have spindly limbs, brittle hair streaked with orange, bowed legs, and protruding stomachs. Within a relatively short period of time in our home, their skinny frames fill out, their skin improves, their hair becomes softer and blacker, and the light of well-being is kindled in their eyes.
The garden in Kutet is quite hilly, but it is still productive. On one terraced hillside, we plant gamal, a fast-growing, tree-like legume, with pineapples in between. On three wider terraces, we plant all kinds of vegetables. Our best producer is the eggplant, which bears fruit well into the beginning of the wet season. We begin planting in April and stagger the plantings so we will have a continuous supply of fresh vegetables from June until November.
With facilities in two locations, we are able to grow different types of crops. For example, watermelons grow well on the coast, but not in the hills. The same goes for tomatoes. We learned that we can grow carrots well in the hills, but not on the coast. The coastal facility also has the advantage of five water wells. With some experimentation, we are able to maximize our vegetable yields.
I do not know what the future holds for Topu Honis. East Timor is an extremely poor country and the global economic crisis has also affected us. This year we have ninety-three children and we should probably try to reduce that number. That would be the wise thing to do. But, of course, doing the unwise thing has also worked out well for us.