The third post-Covid team has returned from TL. The last team for the year always has the tough job of winding things up for the year, and planning for the next. Team 3 was led by Dr Mary Tiutiunnik, who was joined by Dr Leslie Leong and Dr Ashul Kaul.
In what seems to be the theme for 2022, this team spent a lot of time in meetings, and they started on Day 1! Hindered by road closures for the Dili Marathon, the first meeting of the Australian and Timorese members of the TLDP with the Carmelite leadership was late in the day. This was the first of several meetings to discuss a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the TLDP, Rotary, the Carmelites, and the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health. Meetings in TL are never small affairs, and this one was a party of 9 – the 3 Australian dentists, 2 Timorese dental nurses, Ana Tilman and Nico Pires, the heads of the Carmelite order, Sister Santina and Sister Inacia, the head of the Carmelite clinic in Maubara, Sister Fatima, and translator, Isabel Pereira. After the meeting, the team then made their way to the Maubara where they spent the night in the air-conditioned comfort of the Retreat House before heading up to Maubisse.
The next day, dental therapists, Nico Pires and Ana Tilman promptly managed the packing of all the dental gear into the cars. After picking up another of our mentees in Liquiça, Tino Morais, who runs the dental clinic in Gleno Hospital, they made their way via the “shortcut” road to Maubisse. They stopped for lunch at Aileu and all agreed that the “shortcut” road was terrible and they would go the long way home the following Saturday.
On their arrival in Maubisse, they discovered that their Carmelite hosts were not due back until after dinner as they were at a ceremony on Mt Ramelau. They also discovered that Dr Inda, the Maubisse hospital senior dentist who organised the clinics for the next week, was away in Dili visiting her sick mother. At 8 pm that evening when the clinic director, Sister Angelica, returned, she, and Sister Eva informed the team that the road to their first clinic at Manetu was in a bad condition and that they should reconsider going there. Sister Eva did a quick ring around and it was decided that the team’s first two days would be spent at the Franciscan school behind the Maubisse Hospital, the next two days at Maulau as planned, and their last day at the sisters’ Maubisse health clinic. With the sisters’ enthusiastic support and this new plan in place, they all breathed a sigh of relief and happily retired for the night.
On the morning of day 3, Sister Angelica accompanied the team to meet with the Maubisse hospital director. An important part of the program is meeting with other Timorese health staff and building relationships. They met with the co-director of the hospital and discovered that not one, but both, the Maubisse hospital dentists were away. Luckily, the team had the support of the Carmelites to ensure the organisation of their week!
Sister Angelica, Imel, the Carmelite clinic administrator, and Rino the technician joined the team and they set up at the big Franciscan senior and junior high school, Escola Santu Inacio de Loyola and Saõ Paulo. They were extremely busy and managed to treat every class at this school in two days! Imel and Rino were on loan for the week, so the team was very spoilt with a sterilising person and someone to record all the treatment.
The team was so efficient that they even had time at the end of the day to explore the market and the Pousada on the hill. As usual, the sisters’ legendary cooking and the cool weather were highlights of a week in Maubisse.
On Day 5 the team made their way to Maulau with Sr Eva. They were greeted by one of TL’s best school directors, according to the Timorese – Mr Martins, Director of the Maulau primary school. He stayed with the team throughout their visit ensuring the attendance and good behaviour of the students. He even made sure that the team was fed well, plying them with lunch and snacks! Over the next 2 days, they screened the entire primary school and the high school, treating students, staff, and community members.
On Day 8, the team took the long road home to Maubara. Serendipitously, this allowed a detour to Hatmatek waterfall, and a surprise stop at Ana Tilman`s home to have lunch with her big family (she has 11 siblings). Ana`s family home is about 15 minutes from Dili in a pineapple-growing region, so the lucky team bought a good supply to have back at Maubara.
Previously, teams would visit Black Rock Hotel in Caimeo Beach on their day of rest, but sadly this establishment has now been reclaimed by the sea. Nevertheless, there has been continued investment into the area, which is great to see. Over the last 19 years, the TLDP has seen so much change! On their only day ‘off’ the team headed to the new favourite hangout, Lauhata Beach Escape, for lunch, before Mary met with the Carmelite leadership for another MoU meeting. No rest for the wicked, Mary.
The team spent the next 4 days on the sweltering coast. The first very hot two days were spent at a nearby health centre in Ediri, treating the community. The second very hot two days were spent at our base, the Carmelite Maubara Dental clinic where Nico and Ana are based. They were kept very busy treating children from the school down the road, as well as the Carmelites and the community.
The Australian contingent team were flying out on Friday, and Mary had yet another meeting on Friday in Dili with the sisters about the MoU, so the clinical week ended on Thursday. At the end of their second week Team 3 had examined 673 patients, extracted 402 teeth, filled 206 teeth, and performed 184 preventative procedures in some very challenging conditions. Good work team!
After the administrative frustrations experienced by Team 1 and the continuing logistical uncertainties that the TLDP is navigating, Team 2 faced our second post-Covid trip to TL with not a small amount of trepidation. Nevertheless, off they went to Dili, buoyed by an ocean of phone calls, emails, messages and video conferences via Whatsapp and Messenger.
The Australian contingent of Team 2 comprised Team Leader, Dr David Digges, Dr Henry Gilkes and Dr William Hariman. As is quickly becoming a trend for 2022, Day 1 was taken up by meetings.
First, the team met with Dr Sanjay Mathew, who heads the oral health program for Maluk Timor, another NGO with which the TLDP collaborates. There was a lively discussion about the issues facing dental care in TL.
This was followed by another meeting with the Big Bosses at the Carmelite HQ in Fatuhada. The aim was to discuss the program’s challenges and to agree upon future directions. However, the meeting also came with a lovely surprise for the team; Sr Inacia and Sr Santina were accompanied by one of the TLDP’s founders, our beloved Sr Filomena, who is now in charge of the running of Fatuhada. After so many years, they were thrilled to be reunited with our dynamic friend.
Administrative tasks complete, the team then collected Ana Tilman and Ana Martins, did the shopping, and headed to Maubara, where they had another joyful reunion – this time with Sr Fabiola, the former ‘Big Boss’ of the Carmelites in TL. She is now a member of their World Leadership Council, based in Spain. Anyone involved in our program over the years would remember her dynamic spirit and her supportive, can-do attitude, especially when it came to the TLDP.
By Day 2 – Sunday – the team was all together – the Timorese contingent comprised our full-time dental therapists, Nico Pires and Ana Tilman, as well as newbie, Ana Martins, who graduated as a dental therapist from Kupang last year. The team packed up and set off for Maliana near the West Timor border. They stopped for lunch in Balibo; a town that achieved notoriety after five Australian journalists were murdered by Indonesian troops during the Indonesian invasion in 1975.
On arrival in Maliana, the team was met by Noemia Pereira Noronha, aka Mia, the younger sister of our much-loved Isa. Like her sister, she has exceptional translating and organising skills and made the team’s lives substantially easier. For the 3 days the team spent in Maliana, they were accommodated in the Seminary – the food was good and excellent lighting for Dr. Henry’s nightly tutorials for the crew, which covered everything from how to give injections to dental emergencies.
The team worked out of Maliana hospital for 2 days and were extremely busy seeing the community. They happily shared some preventive dental knowledge with the hospital doctors and also provided much-needed clinical supervision and support for the newly graduated local Timorese dentists, Drs Nelia and Maria. They then spent a day working in the nearby village of Cailaco – they found it was faster to follow the riverbed than to use the roads – it still took them over 2 hours to get there!
On Thursday the team headed slowly over the mountains up to Bobonaro where they worked in the Sister’s Clinic over the next 3 days. There were some concerns about the possible lack of patients due to the visit landing squarely in school holidays. They needn’t have worried; there were plenty of patients and the team’s young crew thrived and developed well during these few days. As always, the sisters spoiled them with excellent food and lively company.
On Sunday, the team farewelled Mia in Maliana – she was needed back at her mother’s restaurant. She was such a great addition to the team – she was sorely missed during the seond week. Dr William also headed back to Dili to catch a flight to Sydney the next day. Feeling short-staffed, the rest of the team dropped the gear in Loes on the way back home to Maubara.
During the second week, the team spent the first 3 days in Loes where they worked in an outdoor village clinic in very hot conditions. Loes is located inland at sea-level, so it doesn’t seem to get any sea breezes and hasn’t got any of the advantages of elevation. They treated children from a local orphanage, as well as the general community, which included members of water police force, who we have never come across before.
Although Tuesday was a public holiday in TL (Independence Day), there was no rest for this Aussie-based team, who worked through to 4pm before taking a late lunch at the Lauhata Beach Resort. This proved to be serendipitous for the team because they then had the extraordinary privilege of meeting the President of Timor-Leste, Dr. Hose Ramos Horta! It was a great joy for both Ana’s not only to meet their President, but to also be allowed to have a photo with him. Dr Henry and Dr David took the opportunity to speak to him about the TLDP, and he expressed his thanks for our efforts and stressed the need for us to continue our program. He even suggested that if we continued having difficulties, he could make available space in the Presidential Palace!
The following 2 days were spent in the TLDP base clinic in Maubara in sweltering heat. The effects of the pandemic were very much evident with more patients than ever before, queuing for hours to be seen. The Sisters were thrilled to see Ana Martins working with the team. Ana grew up in the Carmelite sisters’ orphanage in Maubara, and so she occupies a special place in their hearts. The pandemonium at the clinic increased even more when the other children from the orphanage arrived for their checkups! The team’s highlight that week was dinner with the kids at the orphanage – despite having taken out some of the kids’ teeth that day, they were still greeted with smiles.
The last 2 days were spent in Railaco with the Jesuit mission, which functions like a well-oiled machine. After a spectacular drive up into the mountains, the rapidly tiring team were greeted with beers. The indefatigable Father Bong always knows how to make our job easier, and any team hosted by him can expect seamless support. The team was very happy to follow up Team 1’s trip, to continue working their way through the very large Covid backlog, before heading back to Maubara and then home.
This was a mammoth trip for Team 2, even by their own standards. It was longer than normal, and busier than normal, which in the heat is even more difficult physically and mentally. In total, Team 2 carried out 754 check-ups, extracted 528 teeth, placed 193 fillings, and did 240 preventive treatments. It was an enormous effort all round. Well done!
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:
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.
As our many friends and supporters know, the TLDP has been supporting a young Timorese lady, Ana Paula Dos Santos Tavares Salgado, in her dental studies in Fiji National University for the last 2 years. (Above Pic: Ana Paula and her good mates, Patisepta and Mena.
Ana Paula hit the shores of Fiji in February 2019 – right at the beginning of the pandemic – and has been stuck there ever since. University study is hard enough, but studying in another country, away from family and friends, in a foreign language is even harder. The difficulty is heightened even further with Covid factors; there have been periods of extreme isolation, and much helplessness and distress due to separation from sick and dying family members.
It has been a very hard 2 years for Ana Paula.
Nonetheless, Ana Paula is determined and resilient, and she has had staunch support from Australia; Dr David Sheen and John Tweedie have had almost-weekly WhatsApp meetings with Ana Paula throughout her time in Fiji, and have taken on the responsibility of her welfare in Fiji, while Dr Geoff Knight and Dr Stephanie Shields have provided academic aid. Ana Paula is much-loved by all our team members and many of us keep in touch with her.
Fiji finally opened its doors last week, and David Sheen flew over to touch base with Ana Paula. She has garnered some amazing supporters in-country, and David was able to spend some time with her friends and tutors, as well as check out the dental program at Fiji National University.
David found that Ana Paula has now settled into student life and regards the rest of the course with positivity. She has supportive friends and is well liked by the university staff and people she meets. Ana Paula is now studying second year Bachelor of Oral Health subjects, and with a credit average, she will be able to transition into the Bachelor of Dental Surgery.
And with a bit of luck, she will be able to head home to Timor-Leste at the end of this year. Stay tuned!
It’s been a hectic few weeks for our people in TL. On top of the latest covid lockdown, there has been widespread flooding, which has resulted in multiple deaths and the displacement of over 12000 people. Many of those displaced have been forced into crowded evacuation centres – not ideal in the current health landscape.
The family homes of both Ana Tilman and Nico Pires (dental therapists extraordinaire) were inundated. Ana lost everything. Nico fared a little better – his stuff only got wet. In Australia, we were all very relieved to hear that all our Timorese team, and their families, are otherwise well.
This week, all of the staff in the Maubara Clinic got their first Covid vaccination injection. Hopefully, this begins the the journey to a more settled, less worrying time.
It’s just over a week since David and John finished their very long ramble from Chatswood to Blackheath to raise money for Timor. David was raising money for the TLDP; in particular, for Ana Paula’s education in Fiji. John was raising money for Hatubuilico, a beautiful, but remote village in the highlands of TL. By the middle of his 150km challenge, David was aiming to raise $20 000, an enormous amount of money in our estimation.
HE DID IT.
As of today, Monday, November 2nd, David has raised a total of $20 485.
In a conversation at the end of last week, David humbly remarked that it was ‘just a walk’. Yet, his ‘small’ action will have large repercussions – it will help in the building of a better future for the health of the Timorese people.
Although David (plus John and many, many others) did the hard physical slog, this amazing result is a true team effort. Only with the support of our friends and donors, could David et. al.’s walk become transformative. A small thing became something great.
The TLDP is in awe of David – thanks David for doing the hard yards for us all! We are also so grateful for everyone’s contribution. We have tried to get in contact with the many people who supported David, and we apologise if we missed you. Thank you thank you thank you.
David Sheen and John Tweedie started their walk yesterday – Walk for Ana and Trek for Timor hand-in-hand. They weren’t alone. They were accompanied by the Timor-Leste Consul General, Luciano Valentim, and a bunch of enthusiastic (foolhardy?) supporters.
It was humid. It was hard. But they did it. And lived to do it all again today in torrential rain!
David has raised $10 010 so far.
Thank you to all our donors – we make sure that every dollar counts towards Ana Paula’s education as well as supporting our tireless staff in our Maubara Dental Clinic. Nico Pires and Ana Tilman have been able to continue to treat the community (when they weren’t in lockdown) throughout the year, despite equipment and materials shortages and without any direct intervention from us.
Please help us to get to $15 000!
Our Timorese team has raised the bar. So we have as well – now we are trying to raise $15 000. If you can help, please donate now – we are grateful for anything you can spare.
Our supporters on Insta/FB already know this, but for those who don’t – David Sheen is heading out on a very long walk. He aims to raise money for the TLDP’s work in TL, but is especially aiming at raising funds to help us to support Ana Paula’s dental studies in Fiji. As you might expect, overseas study is expensive. When we first started supporting Ana Paula’s studies, we estimated that it would cost the TLDP $25000 for tuition fees, travel and living expenses. However, due to the pandemic, Ana Paula must now stay in Fiji over the long summer break, instead of heading home to TL, which means more expense.
David is aiming to raise an additional $10000 by completing this walk.
David is walking from Chatswood – the home of our sponsoring Rotary Club – to Blackheath. He is walking with our good friend, John Tweedie, who is also walking to raise money for the Blue Mountains Supporting Timor group which supports Hatobuilico, a village in southern TL. The walk is 150km, over 6 days. They start on 17th October.
David and John have been busy training for their challenge. They did Leg 5 last weekend and have concluded that it is going to harder than they thought. We wish them luck!
For more info about David’s walk, or if you want to join David, feel free to drop us a line! And if you can’t join him or think he’s a little crazy, but you want to help Ana Paula and help our work, you can sponsor David – everything counts!
Thank you to all our friends and supporters! DONATE NOW page.
It’s been a pretty strange year for everyone, including the TLDP. Usually at this time of the year, two teams would have already completed their trips to TL. There would have been equipment breakdowns, vehicle troubles and severe depletion of consumables. Hundreds of people would have had their toothaches relieved and broken teeth fixed. And back at home, we would be flat out trying to get ready for the following three teams – begging for and buying equipment and materials, arranging customs documentation for said equipment and materials, Timorese registration of dentists, and millions of WhatsApp texts, emails and Messenger texts flying back and forth trying to organise clinics in the ever-changing landscape of TL.
Instead, this year we have been very quiet. But we haven’t been holidaying – the work has not stopped behind the scenes.
In February this year, our long-time employee, Ana Paula Dos Santos Tavares Salgado, commenced a Dental Degree at Fiji National University in Suva. Ana Paula is progressing well – she passed her first lot of exams, YAY! WOOHOO!- but it has been extremely challenging for her. She has had to adapt to a new country. Covid-19 has increased her social isolation, as well as educational isolation, as tuition has been solely online, and collaboration between classmates disallowed. Luckily, a number of our volunteers have been able to support Ana Paula during these stressful months. Dr Stephanie Shields, Dr Geoff Knight, Dr David Sheen and Mr John Tweedie have been a Godsend for her.
Thankfully, the University recommenced face-to-face teaching in Semester 2. Fiji has had only a small number of Covid cases to date. Ana Paula is a determined and hardworking individual, which is why the TLDP is supporting her during her studies. Ana Paula’s education is a five year commitment for the TLDP, assuming she is successful, and will cost the program $25000 annually.
Meanwhile, back in TL, our full-time dental therapists, Nico Pires and Ana Tilman, were forced to close the Maubara clinic for 2 months, as the Timorese government called a State of Emergency. Like everywhere else, gloves and masks were in extremely short supply. The pandemic caused increased disruptions in shipping, and the TLDP and our friends spent significant effort trying to get supplies to Nico, Ana and our partners, the Carmelite sisters, who continue to run primary health clinics. Thank you to Rod Flavell from the Bendigo Maubisse Friendship Committee for helping us get our gear to Darwin. And thank you to Dr Yvonne Huijser Van Reenen (one of our volunteers) and Dr Jeff Swann from the ABSO Cleft Lip and Palate Program for getting the gear to TL. However, the Timorese government chose this time to implement new rules about importing medical supplies, making a task that is always difficult into an impossibility. At time of writing our gear is still sitting in Dili airport awaiting ‘customs clearance’.
Timor-Leste emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic. They had only 24 cases of Covid-19 and no deaths. What a relief! Ana and Nico have reopened the clinic and are back to treating patients. At the start of the pandemic, they set up a hand washing station outside for their patients to wash their hands before and after treatment, and they continue to maintain this practice. Well done to both of them!
Lastly, the TLDP can finally, FINALLY, do away with all the exercise books in which we currently keep patient records! We now have our own fully functional digital clinical record which has been constructed specifically for our program. Anyone who has been to TL remarks upon the huge numbers of school children. They are usually seen in the streets in the afternoons – vast hordes of kids in immaculate school uniforms. It is a recipe for writer’s cramp filling out all those names – vast hordes of school kids in the streets means vast schools. Increased accuracy and speed of recording details will make for a better service. Unfortunately, Ana and Nico will have to wait until next year to launch it – we still can’t get over there!
A little request – as with all charities, we rely on people’s goodwill to continue our mission to improve the lives of Timorese people. With wages, and now university fees, constituting the largest part of our expenditure, we need help more than ever. Every dollar that is donated (minus 3% for Rotary admin fees) goes towards helping the Timorese people. All our volunteers self-fund and many of our materials are donations. We truly appreciate any contribution towards our program and we thank you in advance. To donate – hit the button up at the top!