UNITY IN DIVERSITY

Our volunteering year is now ended with Team 5 returning a couple of weeks ago from TL. It has been a very busy year, and so we are quite happy to be able to draw a quick breath or two before we start to prepare for the year ahead. (Pic: Isa, Nico, Tino, Bony, David and Ana Paula)

Team 5 was led by Dr David Sheen, one of this program’s founders, and an excellent dentist, teacher and mentor. David has decided that this will be his last clinical trip, so we imagine that this trip tasted bittersweet. David will be sorely missed. He is a gracious, good-humoured and considerate person and a skilled team leader. However, there is no rest for the wicked – David will continue to be involved in the TLDP management committee, and he has taken on the responsibility for getting a Timorese person into and through a dental degree! We haven’t seen the last of him yet!

The remainder of the Australian contingent of Team 5 consisted of returnee, Dr Geoff Knight (Week 1), and newcomers, John Darby (Week 1 and2) and Gaye Dumont (Week 2).

We are proud to say that the Timorese portion of Team 5 was considerably larger than the Australian part, something that is now typical of all our teams, and an ideal that we have been steadily working towards over the past 15 years. We believe that a program is only sustainable if it has local ownership and it can only be locally-owned if there is a preponderance of local participation. The timorese contingent consisted of TLDP dental therapist, Nicolau Tolentino Faria Pires (Nico), TLDP dental assistant and translator, Ana Paula Dos Santos Tavares Salgado, Ministry of Health (MoH) dental therapist, Diamantino Correia Morais (Tino), translator, Bonifacio Cardoso Martins (Bony), translator and organiser, Isabel Noronha Pereira De Lima Maia (Isa), MoH dentist, Dr Inda Zulmira Dias, MoH dental therapists, Armando Da Costa Martins and Ricardo Mendonça, and Carmelite sister, Sr Delfina Soares. With the exception of Sr Delfina, all the Timorese in this team have worked with the TLDP for many years.

The lucky team spent the first week in Oecusse, an East Timorese enclave within West Timor, Indonesia. They were lucky not only because Oecusse is a beautiful area with coral reefs off the beach, but also because they got to spend time with our beloved Sr Filomena da Costa, our old Timorese program coordinator who was uprooted from Maubara to take over the new Oecusse Carmelite community. (Pic: Sr Carmelita, Sr Filomena and Ana Paula)

This team journeyed by ferry, a quite expensive and time-consuming exercise involving putting the 2 packed vehicles on the ferry in the morning, waiting around Dili all day, then boarding at 5pm, before finally arriving at 5am the next morning. Luckily, the team scored the only 2 cabins onboard and were able to sleep! Thanks to Isa for booking the tickets in advance! (Pic: Dedicated Nico and Tino)

The team worked for 3 ½ days within the Carmelite Health Centre, São Domico Clinic, mostly treating the children from the neighbouring high school and the local community. Sr Filomena, Bony and Nico did all the oral health education and screening of the school kids. After that, the team broke up into two teams, each comprising a Timorese clinician with a mentor; Geoff teamed with Tino and Ana Paula to do all the fillings and preventive treatments, while David and Nico did all the extractions. John Darby, a dental prosthetist in Oz, became the team’s super-efficient sterilising nurse and infection control manager. It was a very busy few days! It was a real treat for the team to be able to spend time with Sr Filomena, who is also one of the founders of our program and a delightful lady with a loving and ebullient nature. (Pic: Geoff, Sr Carmelita and Tino)

Another 12-hour boat ride and the team returned to Dili on the Saturday for restocking and team changeover. The team farewelled Tino, Bony and Geoff and welcomed Gaye and Sr Delfina into the fold. Sr Delfina is keen to study dentistry and the TLDP has agreed to support her studies if she gets into a training program. In a meeting with the Carmelite head honchos on the weekend, David suggested that Sr Delfina gain some work experience, so she also joined Team 5 for round 2! Off to the hills of Maubisse! (Pic: John and Gaye atop the Christo Rei)

The trip to Maubisse takes 4-5 hours from Dili. The team was scheduled to work in one of its more remote regions, Manetu, for the next couple of days. The team arrived in the early afternoon in Maubisse town and collected Dr Inda, so they decided to push onto the Manetu-Lebululi Health Centre to set up for the next day. Unfortunately, they travelled via a suggested ‘short cut’, which turned out to be an extremely bad road, and when they finally arrived, the health centre was locked up with no one around, leaving the team to do a u-turn and head back to Maubisse. At least the return trip was on the longer, but much better, road and so the return journey only took 1 ½ hours! (Pic: Gaye and the Maubara sisters)

Manetu is a very poor area, which suffers from severe water shortages when the rain doesn’t come on time. As a result, the villagers have difficulties with personal and home hygiene, and the team saw many people with scabies and badly infected mouths. This is the first time the TLDP has travelled to this village (this was an agreement drawn up in April this year in a meeting with the local chiefs) and the first time this village has had any dental care at all, so it was unsurprising that most of the treatment was extractions. Dr Inda manned 2 extraction chairs all by herself, and David mentored Nico doing restorations.

The last couple of days were spent in the Horaiki High School, which had already been screened and given oral health education by the Maubisse Hospital team (Dr Inda, Armando and Ricardo). Team 5 was assisting the hospital team to follow up with treatment. David and Inda mentored the two Maubisse dental therapists, Armando and Ricardo, while Nico gave additional toothbrushing instruction in the classrooms. In both locations, Gaye, John and Ana Paula kept the team going. Support staff are essential for maintaining good infection control in TL! (Pic: Dr Inda and Ana Paula doing the admin)

Team 5 had brought over our new 34kg suction unit. It worked brilliantly, which meant happy clinicians and happy patients. Lucky for them, there were no equipment breakdowns. NONE! That must be a record! The team also got to spend time with 3 different sets of Carmelites – Sr Filomena, Sr Carmelita and Co. in Oecusse, Sr Joaninha, Sr Lindalva and Co. in Maubara, and Sr Domingas, Sr Rosa, Sr Eva, Sr Veronica and Sr Zeza in Maubisse. That’s a lot of cheeriness and good food right there! (Pic: the Maubisse Sisters)Overall the team saw 443 patients, carried out 318 check-ups, took out 460 teeth, placed 218 fillings and did 42 preventive treatments. Well done Team 5!

Thank you to everyone who continues to support our program! From our donors, to our team members in Darwin who collect supplies and bring them to the airport for the teams, to our biggest materials donors – Henry Schein Halas and SDI – and the Rotary Liaison Team in Dili who do so much running around for us, we are in your debt. Thank you for your generosity. We could not do this without you.

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