Congratulations to Dr Noel: almost 20 years of mending hearts and building hope

A special message from our CEO

Congratulations to Dr Noel: almost 20 years of mending hearts and building hope

I have lived and worked in some of the poorest communities on the planet. From Asia to East and Southern Africa. I used to think poverty was something in far off lands. I was wrong. Nothing can prepare you for the short flight from Darwin to Dili, capital of Timor-Leste (East Timor) where some of the poorest communities in the world reside. Dili to Darwin is closer than Melbourne to Sydney. Australia ranks second in the world on the United Nations Human Development Index; Timor-Leste ranks 133 (out of 188 countries).

It shocked me the first time I travelled to Timor and it no doubt shocked East Timor Hearts Fund Dr Noel Bayley (now East Timor Hearts Fund co-founder and honorary medical adviser) when he hopped that short flight back in 2000, not long after the restoration of independence. He saw people dying of preventable illness so close to our shores. A proud nation that needed a hand up, not a hand out.

Now Noel could have done what most people would have done, thrown his hands in the air and said; ‘what can I do…’the problems here are too great’. But Noel being Noel (if you know him) came back to his friends and family and said we have to do something about this. He didn’t hold workshops, or seminars or found a think tank. He got on with it. He started one by one, sometimes two by two, bringing people to Australia for life-saving heart surgery. Almost 20 years on a band of professional volunteers and staff have rallied around Noel’s cause. We continue the work Noel started in mending the broken hearts of our brothers and sisters of Timor-Leste.

People often ask me why I took on the role of CEO for East Timor Hearts Fund. There are a few reasons but perhaps the greatest is that I was drawn to the work of someone like Noel. I like that Noel didn’t philosophise or conceptualise - he got on with it. He treated his patients in Dili just as he would any one of his patients in Warrnambool, a regional city in Australia where Noel lives and practices.

After working for many years in the international development sector I can tell you what people like Noel do. Beyond saving lives, they build trust with community. They build hope. When people truly see you as friend, willing to do what is required, then they will stay with you through the test of time.

This, I believe, is largely the reason why East Timor Hearts Fund is such an incredible organisation. When you meet people in Timor-Leste, whether in the streets of Dili or in government, they all remark that we are true friends of Timor-Leste. This friendship can’t be bought, or conceptualised or workshopped, it is only achieved through blood, sweat and tears. This is a culture Noel established and it will endure.

Today we learned that Dr Noel Bayley has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours.

Unsurprisingly, as I write this Noel is once again leading our volunteer medical team in Timor-Leste this Queen’s Birthday long weekend. No time for self-congratulation, or even relaxation, Noel is back out there helping our neighbours, saving lives and continuing the work he started almost 20 years ago.

Noel, we are indebted to you for the work you have done and the work you continue to do. It is an honour to work alongside you and I’m sure I speak for all the volunteers, staff and supporters of East Timor Hearts Fund in congratulating you on your much-deserved Order of Australia award.

- Stuart Thomson, CEO 

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