Living it LARGE in TL


Team 4 has returned from an immensely productive, fun-filled trip to TL. The team had Dr Peter Shakes (team leader) and Malita McCabe for the entire fortnight, with the addition of Dr David Digges for the first week, and Dr Mengzhu Wang for the second week.

Unfortunately the team had to endure a similar registration rigmarole to Team 3; however, as the TLDP has done some  scrambling to adjust to the new regulations, this team didn’t have to spend entire days in Dili cooling their heals. Instead they had a mere wait of 4 hours on the day of arrival for the Ministry of Health to advise them that they were unable to be seen that day, followed by a relatively succinct meeting with the Director of Health and Quality Assurance a week later. Progress!

After an overnight pitstop in Maubara to check in with fabulous Sr Filomena, gather the gear and collect Nico (our hardworking dental therapist), the team headed off to Maliana district for its first week. Lunch was taken enroute in the infamous town of Balibo, which now has an Australian-funded dental clinic of its own, and is staffed periodically by Timorese auxiliary staff  and Australian volunteer dentists.  On arrival into Maliana, the team was met by Isabella – Bony’s cousin – who had the job of fixer and translator for the week. Isabella quickly became an indispensable member of the team – the team has dubbed her “The Terrific Iza”. (Pic: Malita, David & Terrific Iza)Malita, David & Iza

The first 2 1/2 days  were spent working in Maliana Hospital. At first, both Peter and David were not running on all cylinders (Peter had a lingering respiratory illness and David was recovering from a recent operation) but they still plugged through the work with dedication. I’m sure that their ‘soldiering on’ was aided significantly by the distinctly unusual, über-plush working environment of Maliana. Not only did the hospital have air-conditioning, electricity, a fully-functional sterilisation room with sterilisation nurses, and hospital staff eager to assist our team; but the team were also housed in brand-new accomodation, which also had air-conditioning, electricity AND hot showers!! With lunch delivered everyday by Alberto, the Über Eats of Maliana, they were set!

Bony and Iza had organised the program in Maliana well in advance; this ensured a steady stream of patients, and the team had to work at pace to keep up with the numbers as well as provide quality clinical supervision and training for both Nico and the resident dental therapist, José, who was simply happy to have local anaesthetic to work with.

In the afternoon of the Day 3, the team packed up and headed up the hill to Bobonaro – a 10km, 1 hour drive. The TLDP has yet to see any improvement in this road since we started coming here over a decade ago.

The team had the usual warm welcome  by the Carmelite sisters and Malita was finally able to have the unique experience that accompanies all our trips – living with servants of God. In Bobonaro, the accomodation is simple and clean, the company is fabulous, the food plentiful and the cool mountain air delightful. The team set up in the Sisters’ clinic, a short walk away from the convent and church. The following 2 days were spent treating the local community, with the first morning dedicated to treating children. Now in a more typical Timorese clinical situation – no running water, no electricity – and with instruction from Nico, Malita was soon a dab hand at sterilising outreach style – with a pressure cooker on a gas ring. Malita is a qualified dental hygienist – so she was an exceedingly busy member of the team; she was sterilising instruments, assisting the 3 other clinicians, AND cleaning the teeth of her own patients. What a woman! Nico wowed the Aussies with his extraction skills – he has come a long way since we first employed him in April this year.

Before the long commute back to Maubara, the female members of the team (plus Nico) lightened their wallets at the local markets and they all had a lounge in the Bobonaro Hotsprings. Sheer luxury! (Pic: Bobonaro Hot Springs)Bobonaro Hot Springs

Sunday, always a slower day in a Catholic country, was spent in Dili – David and Meng did a tag team swap at the airport, and the team had the all important meeting with the MoH before heading back to Maubara ready for the second innings.

Week 2 was a week of movement for the team. The first two days were spent at Maubara High School and Maubara Primary School, where Meng was rapidly inducted into the cut and thrust of dentistry in TL. This was swiftly followed by a day in Paurubu Primary School, a day in Kaikaça Primary School and a final stint at our base clinic in Maubara. Phew!

There are stark differences between villages in Timor, the most obvious arising from differentials in the availability of water, electricity and food; they are often noticed most by newcomers to TL. Meng and Malita, this team’s rookies, were struck by the differences between Paurubu and Kaikaça , which are only 5km apart. The well-being of the children in Kaikaça, which has had a significant amount of help from NGOs, was significantly better than that of Paurubu’s kids, who lack running water, adequate food, and sanitation.

Governed by school hours, the team generally finished earlier than usual. The additional time was spent carrying out necessary maintenance and inventory tasks, washing the cars (probably the first team EVER to do so – these people were keen!), having a dip in the ocean, and “getting their shop on” at the Maubara women’s cooperative where, according to reports, Meng alone bought half the village’s merchandise .

The team had relatively few problems with equipment – a dodgy power cord was ‘repaired’ by Nico, they coped with the ongoing problems with one of our portable dental chairs (the new part was ordered after Team 3 and will be coming up to TL with Team 5), and were unfazed by a dodgy water spray and hand piece.

Altogether, the team examined 490 people; they extracted 409 teeth, placed 63 fillings, and cleaned 41 people’s teeth. A fabulous effort from a well-oiled team!

Well done Team 4!

1 thought on “Living it LARGE in TL

  1. I have loved reading every update in the least decade. The blogs are very interesting to read. I admire the teams that travel to East Timor each year to care for those that have no access otherwise to dental care. Your dedication and hard work in very difficult conditions is an inspiration to all. Great work!

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