Last Team for 2016

Yet again it is Dr David Digges’s team closing our volunteering year for us! The team leaves this Saturday 24 September and is another tag-team – the first week it consists of David, second-timer, Liz Erberl (a registered nurse and David’s sister), and newcomer, Dr Ashley Freeman, who hails from Darwin; the second weeks farewells Liz, and welcomes Aisling Digges and Dr Geoff Knight to the fray. The Plan (much-revised) is for the team to head to Maliana the first week (the Sisters in Bobonaro are renovating, so no Bobonaro this year) and then to Railaco the second week. Bony and Tino have spent a lot of time organising the accommodation and the program in Maliana, and it’s always fun in Railaco, thanks to the ebuliient Father Bong, so the team should have a rip-roaring time! As the last team for the year, Team 4 has the responsibility of doing the end-of-year maintenance, making sure that the equipment will be ship-shape for the next year. Good luck Team 4!

Good Samaritans and sewing machines

It all started with a bag. A bag large enough and tough enough to hold a metal and leather portable dental chair weighing 10-15kg, all angles and points and unwieldy as hell. Our second dental chair first hit TL’s shores in an old boogie board bag. For years we slowly watched it fall apart stitch by stitch. Last year we put some serious money (USD 60) into getting a new one made in Dili. A rather arduous process ensued with an average end-product, which started to fall apart within 6 months of service. During Team 3’s trip, the zip finally broke, so Blanche decided to get one made back home. She roped her Dad into service – he makes school uniforms – but after much collaboration and creative brainstorming between the two, he bowed out of the process, leaving Blanche with 50m of Velcro and a verbal shrug.

Owner of an almost virginal sewing machine and with a concomitant level of sewing experience, Blanche carried on (how hard could it be?) with vital advice from the staff at Maroochydore Lincraft and her patients, and a warning from Dad that her machine might not be up to the task of sewing vinyl. Advice gratefully taken, warning summarily ignored. While the sewing would not win any prizes for aesthetics or straight lines, the job was going swimmingly (even the hubbie was impressed!) right up until the virginal machine went into hysterics. Mom stepped into the breach. She was enlisted to take the machine in for repair, but with the deadline nearing, a tiny bit of worry set in. She stopped at Lincraft for advice, and there a kind stranger offered the use of her own machine, which was accepted with much relief.

IMG_7653.JPGIn sweatshop-like conditions, the 120cm x 55cm x 35cm, extremely unwieldy bag, complete with Velcro closures was completed by Blanche, her Mom and the tough old machine in 2 nights, and the bag was shipped by express post to Darwin for the next team.  In the end Mom had taken over the sewing (she could sew in straight lines and a lot faster). We would like to thank Blanche’s Dad for his design ideas, Blanche’s Mom for the sewing advice and the inevitable sewing coup, and most of all, the lovely Jocelyn, who without a second thought, generously lent us her wonderful sewing machine, without which we would never have got the job done! THANKYOU!

Obrigada barak!

As it is with all things, we exist solely by the grace of having so many fabulous supporters. As we march towards the end of our volunteering year, we would like to like to take this opportunity to thank the many people who support us financially and physically. Thank you to our donors – without your help, this program would not be so well equipped and we would be unable to provide our current standard of service to the Timorese people. Thank you to our Rotary Program Manager, Morph, whose service to the program is an expression of love and care. Thank you to Belinda Griffen who, as National Administrator of RAWCS, ensures that our money goes in the proper directions. A BIG thankyou to the outgoing Rotary Liaison Officer in TL, Daryl Mills – he has done so much to smooth our way and to solve problems as they arise. Thank you to his team, Judite and Mario, who have taken over the running of the office in TL – they are immensely approachable and helpful. Thank you to the team from the Donations in Kind Rotary Warehouse – Ricardo Krauskopf, David Dippie and their mates – thankyou for shipping our materials over to TL and for personally delivering our stuff after it went astray.  (Pic: Ricardo, Robyn, David, Roger and Blanche)

IMG_9933Thankyou to Terry Bracks from the Balibo House Trust, for sharing the Victoria Health technicians who had just set up the Balibo Dental clinic; thankyou Anthony Drago and his team for servicing some of our equipment! Thank you to Ligia Ximenes for helping with the translations for this year’s dental workshop. It made our life so much easier! A massive thank you to Keith Mentiplay for his ongoing support for the program – we would literally grind to a halt without you. Thank you for all the hard work that was put into our newest dental cart – it is a thing of beauty! Functional, easy to use and simple to maintain – just what is needed in TL!

IMG_9864 (2)Another BIG thank you to the team at Henry Schein Halas. Kelly Wood and Jessica Chasen help us out with donations and discounted materials and equipment wherever they can and it makes a massive difference to the sustainability of a small program like ours. Thank you also to SDI, who also helps us out with donations of consumables, which we go through like the wind! (Pic: Goulolo girls with Henry Schein Halas balloons)

Thank you to the fabulous Sr Filomena da Costa and Idalina da Silva, for making the Maubara Clinic a home away from home. Thank you to Sr Filomena da Cruz and Sr Maria Baro, for taking Wayne and Mana Eva in from the cold and thoroughly spoiling them in Letefoho. Thank you to Father Bong and his band of merry men for always showing the teams a good time. Thank you to all the Sisters and Fathers who have hosted our teams over the years. We have always fared well under your care. (Pic: Sr Maria and Sr Filomena da Cruz and some of the kindergarten kids in their care)DSC02848 (2)

Last, but not least, thank you to all our volunteers and their very patient, supportive loved ones, for putting in the hard yards. The gig is not easy, but you all do it with such panache.

Happenstance and Opportunity

Pure luck. Being in the right place at the right time. Knowing the right people. Where you were born. Who your family is. Where you grew up. From this, comes opportunity. All of us who volunteer for the TLDP are lucky. We have had the opportunities to thrive in our own communities and we have been given the opportunity to help other communities. We count ourselves blessed.

Team 3 returned from a 3 weekIMG_9566 stint in TL late last Friday. They had already lost one dentist, Yvonne, to health issues a month ago, so they were left with a team of 3 – Blanche, Wayne and Eve. The team lugged in 90kg of supplies to TL, including the new Forrest dental cart and the repaired ultrasonic scaler unit, and sailed through customs, thanks to our soon-to-be departing Rotary Liaison Officer, Daryl Mills. The team bought a mobile phone for the use of the teams’ in-country – only USD 10!!! (Pic: Sr Filomena, Bony, Afonso and the big truck)

Once at Maubara, the team got the gear prepped for the first week in the subdistrict of Letefoho. They left later than expected on Sunday, as they had to wait for Bony, our translator, who was coming from Maliana, where he had just attended his uncle’s funeral. They also had to execute some unforseen repairs on the old and new Forrest units, with help via phone from guru, Keith Mentiplay, in Australia.IMG_9589 But soon they were on their way, with Afonso (One of the Sisters’ drivers who has been on many of our trips before) and Bony, in a borrowed yellow tip-truck, carrying all our less-sensitive gear, and Wayne, Eve and Blanche in T2. The trip took 5 hours; the roads were a quagmire due to unseasonal rain. IMG_9719 (2)

Week 1 was a mixed bag – there were some inauspicious moments – discovering that they had left the needles back in Maubara, continual problems with the electrical supply, the splitting of the team at night for 2 days due to the unsuitability of their first accommodation option (think rats and fetid bathrooms); but there were also multitudinous incidences of care and kindness, joy and thankfulness. The first 2 days were spent in beautiful Lakau. There had been a lot of activity since the team visited this tiny village last year – there is a new Garden of Peace, complete with fishponds and gazebos, a covered community meeting place, and they are in the process of building a grand new church. The villagers were wonderful hosts – Eve’s diet did not get off to a good start. The needle issue arose on Day 1 and was resolved, with amazing rapidity, by Tino bringing them some needles on a borrowed bike, from Gleno (a 4 hour return journey). Tino had just been released from hospital (which is why he wasn’t working with the team)- he is our hero. Bony was also heroic in coordinating the team’s salvation – the negotiation of Lakau’s telecommunication network involved a great deal of climbing atop rickety structures.IMG_9683 (3)

The last 2 days of Week 1 were a dream spent in Goulolo School; the teachers were super-organised and helpful and provided the team with lunch and morning tea; the team was also back together, staying at the well-known Bakhita Centre, a health clinic and guest house ‘down the hill’ from Letefoho, in a pretty valley. Bony came into his own when presented with a microphone at the school; out came tooth brushing instructions, diet advice, jokes and encouragement for the kids – he is a born showman! He  is also a great networker, extremely sociable, very enthusiastic and takes great selfies- we reckon he’ll be President one day! The team’s highlight was the spontaneous eruption of song from the remaining children towards the end of the 2nd day – they  boosted the team’s flagging energy! The joyous song of Goulolo kids

The first weekend had been earmarked for the workshop that Sr Filomena, Blanche, Tino and Aida had been planning IMG_9889 (2)since last July. Also heavily involved was Ligia Ximenes, an attaché to the Timorese Consul General, whom Blanche had met at our big fundraiser in 2014, and who generously gave up her time to do the initial translation of the workshop material – thank you Ligia!!!! Bony had been recruited in April and he had spent a lot of time with Tino and Blanche discussing the workshop. The plan was for all three to meet back at Maubara in the afternoon on Friday to go over the presentation and to set up for the next day, which was to start at 8am. The reality was vastly different. The borrowed overhead projector had no cords with it. Tino and Bony stayed in Dili until 8pm at first looking for a replacement, and then waiting for the cords to be delivered to them. They arrived in Maubara at 9pm, and the team stayed up into the wee hours going over the material. IMG_9927 (2)The next day the projector refused to work for 2 hours, but no one showed up until 10.30, so that was ok! IMG_9912 (2)The presentation went well – Tino’s delivery was excellent – and all the participants (local doctors, nurses and midwives) found the information enlightening. Success! Tino was especially happy to have been given the opportunity to present the workshop and is keen to do it again. Tino is the TLDP’s longest mentored dental therapist and  he has now been given the opportunity to teach students of his own from the University of Timor Leste – he is a measure of our program’s success.

Week 2 was spent with 3 days in Maubara Clinic, a day at the community centre in Guiço, and 2 days in Atabae Hospital, where Bony’s brother is a doctor.IMG_9975 (2) Three very different locations – a small clinic; an open-air pavilion where the team was helped by the local health post director, Mr Paulino, who made all announcements to the patients via loud speaker; and the foyer of Atabae Hospital’s newly built administration building. In all three locations, electricity was sporadic. IMG_9947 (2)

Only in Maubara was there water on tap. Bony had lots of experience with sterilisation, with giving post-operative instructions,  and with divining what the dentists were trying to say. (Pic: Mr Paulino in Guiço)IMG_0059Unfortunately, the dentists discovered that nodding and saying ‘yes’ was not truly indicative of our translator’s understanding. A pact was made with Bony – he would tell them what he thought they were trying to convey (before delivering it to the patient) and they would give him more context. Bony was an excellent member of the team. His light-hearted company and the insight into Timorese culture was priceless. The team, especially Mana Eva, sadly parted from him at his home in Dili, which is almost prophetically close to the Presidential Palace! (Pic: Mana Eva and Bony)IMG_0066.JPG

Week 3 saw a 2 hour lumbering boat ride bring the green-hued team to the beautiful, reef- encircled, mountainous island of Atauro, which sits between two of the deepest ocean trenches in the world – 3000 and 5000m apiece! In contrast to the rest of TL, the population is a largely protestant. The people live in scattering of villages, many only accessible by water or foot. On a short visit last year, Wayne and Blanche had been asked by some of the locals to provide a dental service for this remote area. Two expats, Kevin Austin, who runs boat transfers to the island, and Barry Hinton, who owns an eco-resort with his wife, Lina, offered to help the team get over to the island, and to house, feed and transport them. IMG_0076So lucky Team 3 found themselves dossing down in waterfront grass huts at Barry’s Place in Beloi. Quiet, relaxing, super-clean with great food – the team recommend this as a great place to get off the treadmill and de-tech. Click here to go to Barry’s Place. Barry, Lina and Kevin provide many employment opportunities and training for the local Timorese people and are heavily involved in improving health and well-being on the island. (Pic: Blanche’s hut)

The team set up shop in a corridor of the Vila Hospital, about 10 min drive from Barry’s. Vila hospital opens at 9am, closes at 3pm and has no running water or electricity.IMG_0116 (2) Barry had spent a week fixing a diesel generator for the team (thanks Barry!), but they had to carry water in. Already tired, the team slogged through 3 days of heat, diesel fumes and some of the longest, largest teeth and hardest bone they had come across in TL. Many of the patients had walked for hours, often starting in the dark, to attend the clinic. Due to the patient’s early morning habits, the team ran out of patients by about 3pm each day, and so there was time for a recuperative snorkel and restorative beer. Unfortunately, Barry’s own generator was on the blink and his fridges had to rely on town electricity – available from 6pm to 6am. This equated to warm beer…or warm coke in the case of Mana Eva – yuk. (Pic: One of Lina’s health initiatives for local women – Zumba! They will be entering a Zumba competition in Dili at the end of the month)


It was a productive trip. The team saw 387 patients, did 266 examinations, extracted 394 teeth, filled 185 teeth, did 108 preventive treatments, 27 cleans and 1 root canal treatment. They put a successful workshop under their belt and tested all the TLDP equipment. Mana Eva also went snorkelling for the first time, got on a small plane for the first time, and ate every strange vegetable that came her way! Good job Team 3! (Pic: Bony, Mana Eva, Blanche, Tino and Wayne)


Team 3 is GO

Team 3 will converge on Brisbane Airport early tomorrow morning  as they start the journey to TL. Consisting of Blanche Tsetong, Wayne Pearson and super-excited newbie, Eve Shepard, the team will be in Tl for 3 weeks in the Letefoho, Maubara subdistricts and the beautiful island of Atauro.

The team has finally taken delivery of our brand new Forrest Dental Cart which is intended to replace our ageing and increasingly unreliable ADEC unit. WE are very excited! They will also be taking over much needed donations of dental materials from Henry Schein Halas, Queensland and Northern Territory Health and from Fitzroy St Dental Practice in Grafton. THANKYOU to all our fabulous supporters.

Roughing it in Railaco

team 2 core

According to their report, the only thing ‘rough’ about Team 2’s trip were the roads. Uber-efficient operators, Drs  John Moran and John Whyte, with dental assistant Bella Miller, worked their way through the Railaco district, leaving a trail of happier and healthier villagers in their wake. (Pic: Bella, John M and John W at Black Rock Restaurant, Caimeo Beach Resort)

On landing in TL, the team were met by one of the local Rotary coordinators, Judite, who delivered our vehicle, T2, and helped the team with the shopping for local supplies. The team then headed for Maubara where, with the lovely Sr Filomena’s assistance, they loaded T2 up to the gunwales with equipment and materials, before moseying to the nearby Caimeo Beach Resort, in Liquiça, for a night of glamping. The team highly recommend this experience! (

85 (2)During their stay in Railaco, the team stayed in the Jesuit Mission with irrepressible Father Bong and his team – Father Joseph, his assistant; trainee priests, Arow, Michael, Luis and Gilbert (Gil); and the hospitality crew, Anna, Christina and Leonora. They were dined and entertained  in true Railaco fashion, and included the added treat of dinner at the Order of St Paul of Chartres Convent down the road, where they were given a choral welcome by the lovely sisters.

88 (2)The team’s days were no less entertaining than their nights. Father Bong knows how to organise a work tour! Over the week, the team worked together with a myriad of local people. Victor (pic), a part- owner of a local egg farm and a non-active member of the Portuguese army, assisted with chair-side suctioning and translating. His life-story fascinated the team and mirrors so many of the Timorese population. His parents ‘disappeared’ in the 1975 Indonesian invasion. During the occupation he initially hid in the hills with other students from his school, before escaping as a refugee to Australia. He lived in Sydney for many years and spent some time in Portugal. He never married due to the agreement with the Portuguese army, but lives in Railaco with his dog and 6 young puppies. The team had a tour around Victor’s egg farm and John, in true paddock-to-plate style, attempted to eat one of its non-productive chicken – unsuccessfully – too tough!

24Arow and Gilbert, the trainee priests, also acted as translators and dental nurses; and the infamous Tino also joined the team for a number of days. Tino is the most dedicated of dental therapists that we mentor and luckily, his area of responsibility is Ermera. He very happily helped out with translation and assisting and even more happily received some valuable training in filling front teeth from John. (Pic: Tino in training with John)

19After a day in Railaco proper, the team was sent to 5 remote villages in the hills of Ermera. They visited Cocoa, where they worked in the family home of Esterlita da Costa, who fed the team a delicious local dish of pumpkin leaf and red bean.  The following day’s journey to Railaco Leten was a 9km, 70 minute four-wheel-driver’s dream straight up the mountain, where the team were met by Brother Frank, who helped them set up a clinic in an old wooden chapel. (Pic: Railaco Leten). The team were disappointed that there were fewer patients that day, but the Timorese are often a little reluctant to see us – a dental visit is scary, especially when you have never seen (or heard) a dental clinic before!

40The next day, and an additional 6km, brought the team to Samalete, where they set up a clinic in the market place. In Tocoluli, the lucky team set up their clinic in an outdoor meeting place with million dollar views of Mt Ramelau and Gleno. No one was put off by the torrential rain that day and they were blessed by large numbers of patients, the meeting of local dignitaries,  and a rainbow spanning the entire valley that afternoon! 107 (2).jpgThis was an especially long day for Bella, who worked well into the night sterilising the instruments from a busy clinical day. (Pic: Bella’s steri-station). 20 (2)The last village visited was Nasuta, at the top of another 4WD track up the side of a mountain. And again – an open-air clinic with stunning views – this time to Maubara, Dili and Bazatete. Father Bong joined the team on their last day and he was given more training in pulling super loose teeth, which he hopes to do in emergency situations when neither Tino, nor a team, is in town (Father Bong is a doctor and he has had some experience extracting teeth with David Digges’ team last year). 36 (2)The team had a fabulous time in Railaco – as they always d0 – an extra thankyou to Anna for catering for Bella’s vegan diet with nary a batted eyelash. We are glad that Bella didn’t whittle away to nothing while she was out there!

The team headed back to Maubara, where they were met by Bony, our new translator, for a day of patients and tidying up. Maubara has not had the services of Aida, the local dental therapist, for over 6 months. In its ‘wisdom’, the health department has pulled all staff (and that means everybody in the hospitals and the health clinics out in the districts) from their normal jobs and put them to census-taking. The team were able to take up the slack a little in their day in Maubara, and add in a little bit more glamping before heading back to Dili and home.

Overall, the team had a surprisingly trouble-free trip; aside from a dodgy foot pedal on our oldest dental cart, which we had JUST got fixed in Oz (thankfully we are replacing it this July), and an autoclave with a mind of its own, the equipment held its own! Yaay! And this brilliant team managed to carry out 164 examinatons and 226 extractions, place 136 fillings and 296 fissure sealants, as well as 19 other miscellaneous treatments.

Well done team! Many thanks for all your hard work!