The Delightful Frustrations of Being Back.

Deep in our hearts we knew that the first trip to TL in almost three years was always going to be an unknown quantity. A change in government with the accompanying change in administration meant that we had to renegotiate to be able to continue to provide the same services that we have provided for the past 20 years. And after over 6 fruitless months of texts/emails/calls to seemingly every official person in TL, we decided upon a new strategy:

Wing it.

So we sent in Team 1. The Australian contingent consisted of a single sacrificial victim – Dr Peter Shakes – who was to brave the sea of endless red tape for the rest of us. Luckily, he had the support of a hefty, indefatigable Timorese contingent, consisting of TLDP veteran dental therapists, Nico Pires and Ana Tilman, who have continued to run the Maubara clinic throughout the pandemic; our very able first mentee, and now head dental therapist in Gleno Hospital, Tino Morais, and new graduate, Ana Martins, who the TLDP supported through her studies. (Title image: From Left Nico Pires, Tino Morais, Ana Tilman. Image below: Ana Martins assists Tino Morais)

The trip was the typical mixture of trial and tribulation. After much paper shuffling prior to arrival, and expert shepherding by super-reliable Rotary Liaison Officer, Mario Jesus, Peter glided through customs. However, even Mario was unable to ensure that those pre-arranged meetings (that Peter had arrived early for) with the Departments of Registration, Pharmacy and Cooperation went ahead. The meetings were rescheduled for Monday and Team 1 lost a clinical day.

The weekend was spent prepping equipment for the week ahead and the boss of Maubara Clinic, Sister Fatima, ensured Peter received the full Carmelite spoiling. Peter and Mario returned to Dili on Monday morning for the big meetings – described by Peter as, “impacted third molar extraction without local anaesthetic would have been quicker, more productive and much more enjoyable”. 

While the dealings with the government were unsurprisingly less-than-useful, the team’s woes continued, with the outreach plan being thrown into disarray by a mix-up with accommodation. There was no room for all of them in Maubara, so the team upped sticks and headed to west to Kasait.

Kasait was a treat for the team. The clinic staff were very helpful and the working conditions and digs were positively luxurious – three rooms with running water, power AND lights! The team worked in Kasait until the Saturday lunchtime, reluctantly declining another week’s hospitality.

Saturday afternoon saw a first in TLDP history.

The team made their way to an open flat area where Peter bravely conducted the Inaugural TLDP Driving Course. All Timorese members ‘had a go’ and all went well. Peter only had to employ the (emergency) handbrake once and although they only made it into second gear, considerable progress was made. Yet another step towards self-sufficiency! Well done Nico, Ana, Tino and Ana!

The second week was spent in Railaco, in the tender and efficient care of the redoubtable Father Bong. The team conducted clinics in Railaco Vila as well as Railaco Leten. As expected, Railaco was extremely busy and the team worked long hours. Luckily, with the exception of Ana Martins, everyone in Team 1 was a well-seasoned TLDP worker – Peter found that it was easier to just get out of the way of that well-honed team when there was any packing/unpacking/setting up/breaking down of the mountains of gear that we carry around. Indeed, the Timorese team members were at great pains to take good care of Dr Peter, affectionately calling him”Katuas” i.e. old Grandfather.

What was patently obvious to Peter this trip was that the TLDP’s Timorese mentee clinicians can now consistently provide high standard restorative treatment as well as competent extractions. They have highly-developed standards of professional competence, motivation and conduct – a testament to their efforts and those of the volunteers who have contributed to the TLDP.

Tino farewelled the team after the week at Railaco. The TLDP started mentoring him in 2011 and it is truly wonderful that he continues to take leave to help out the TLDP teams. He returned to his clinic in Gleno Hospital with the team’s excess local anaesthetic – a treasure in a place where supply is extremely limited. Meanwhile the rest of the team headed back to Maubara and thence to Dili and Oz.

The work with the government is ongoing. Team 2 is now in the zone.

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