The fabulous Dr Steph Shields met Team 4 at an ungodly hour at Darwin Airport to deliver much-needed supplies. The first wave of the Australian volunteers consisted of team leader, Dr Peter Shakes, and team members, Dr Jeremy Lung, Dr Martin Ramlah and Ms Malita McCabe. They were joined for the whole trip by our Timorese team members – dental therapists, Mr Nico Pires and Ms Ana Tilman, Ms Ana Paula Salgado, our translator and admin extraordinaire and Mr Tino Morais, our long time mentee dental therapist, who is in charge of the Gleno Hospital dental clinic.
As usual, the first night consisted of packing and tidying at our base clinic in Maubara, then dinner with our partners, the Carmelite Sisters. Martin kept the Sisters entertained (and possibly scandalised) with Australian sayings, some of which may have not been entirely appropriate for the Servants of God!
The next morning the Team was off for 2 weeks in Atsabe, a 6 hour drive from Maubara. The first 5 days were spent in what is arguably the most scenic dental clinic that the TLDP gets to work in – the verandah of the Priests’ Residence. It is also one of the windiest locations – the Timorese shiver when they talk about Atsabe. However, the view more than makes up for the sporadic electricity and the icy morning baths!
Over the first 5 days, the team took care of the children from the local government and parish schools, as well as members of the general community. This is our second trip to Atsabe and like most places in TL, is desperate for dental care- the community was lining up for treatment before the team had even had breakfast! The week was punctuated by Nico’s 27th Birthday (he had cake for breakfast) and the local market day, where Malita did her civic duty contributing to the local economy.
Martin and Jeremy graduated relatively recently – almost 2 years ago – and these young sparks approached the transfer of knowledge and skills with great enthusiasm. Both worked closely with Nico, Tino and Ana Tilman to produce some very pleasing results – a number of the fillings on the front teeth would be at home at any high standard Australian practices and are testimony to the mentoring of the TLDP teams. Good work, guys! Some of these fillings were needed because of a local recent fashion trend of filing or deliberately chipping the front teeth – something we sought to discourage.
Having a dental hygienist on this team proved to be an excellent advertising tactic. On the third day, Malita got going with her cleaning and from that time on attracted a following of handsome young boys with shiny white teeth and typically TL wide smiles. These young boys recruited friends and family to attend for the remainder of the team’s stay. Great work, Malita!
Day 6 was changeover day and a very tired team had a day of relative rest. Peter and Nico did the 8 hour round trip to Dili to swap dentists. The trip started off a little shakily but at least they got the wrong turn out of the way early in journey! Jeremy was delivered to Dili and returning veteran, Dr Hans Raets, collected without problems.
Hans’ journey to TL had already been eventful. He had been flagged as a terrorist in Darwin, attempting to load a bomb (our new autoclave) on the Darwin-Dili flight. Personally, we would choose a less conspicuous individual if we were recruiting for a terrorist organisation – Hans is over 6 ft tall and is very distinctive. Luckily for us, Hans was eventually let on the plane after partial disassembly of ‘the bomb’.
The team worked one last day on their verandah before shifting to a new location. The village of Atara is only 10km by road, but it is a 1 hour drive as the ‘road’ closely resembles a goat track. The team arrived to find market day in full-swing, which necessitated a lot of shuffling of trucks and market stallholders before the team was installed in the open-air meeting area. Three pluses kept the team happy over the next 3 days – the old chief and his wife kept them well-fed and caffeinated, there was the luxury of electricity so no need to use the generators, and they were allowed to store the equipment onsite, so no need to set up and break down the clinic everyday!
The community had never had a dental service here before, which showed up in the large amounts of advanced dental disease in the adults. The children, however – screened at the local primary school by Martin and Ana Paula – had pretty good teeth, which is generally the case in the remote areas of TL – no access to junk food! With the dentists forming mentoring teams with the therapists, Malita manning the assisting and the sterilisation, and Ana Paula whipping them all along, the team worked through the patients with no problems.
On the penultimate morning, the team took their leave of Atsabe and headed back to Maubara for admin and housekeeping; stopping briefly at Gleno Hospital to drop Tino off so he could start his afternoon clinic. Tino is a great asset to the TLDP and demonstrates enormous enthusiasm for high quality, gentle dentistry. We have been mentoring Tino for 7 years now- he works voluntarily with as many teams as possible every year, simply to improve his skills. Nico has been employed and mentored by the TLDP for 3 years. In that time, both their skills have improved out-of-sight. For clinicians with limited resources, they have become excellent diagnosticians and they do some beautiful work. We are humbled by their dedication to their work.
This trip was exceptional in that everything worked – the team even had a functioning suction unit, unlike last year! And nothing broke down! The team itself was a fabulous blend of ‘old-er’ and younger dentists, a veteran dental hygienist, plus the enthusiastic, uncomplaining and capable Timorese. Together, they brought to fruition our shared mission to make a difference to the Timorese communities we serve.
This trip the team treated 710 patients, extracted 623 teeth, filled 162 fillings, did 69 preventive treatments and 43 cleans. Well done team 4!