This Monday marks the arrival of our third team in TL this year. The team comprises team leader, Dr Wayne Pearson, boomerang volunteers – Dr Karen Sloan and the hardcore supernurse, Mrs Sally Stephens; as well as new blood, Dr Marius Mocke and Ms Abbey Notley; the eastern states of Australia are well-represented here – Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland! Along with Nico, it’s a BIG team! They will be spending their outreach week in the offshore island of Atauro – and braving the big boat – the ‘Nakroma’ – which we have previously used to get to/from Oecusse. The team will be taking 2 vehicles over to Atauro, and the Nakroma is the only boat big enough to carry them. We are a little apprehensive – the last time we put a car onto THAT boat, it nearly fell into the sea! Have fun Team 3! Hope you have red skies at night…..
Apologies to our supporters for the tardy update, but there has been significant busy-ness this month for the TLDP team. Team 2 returned mid-June after a highly productive trip, which is only to be expected from the well-oiled team of Dr John Moran, Dr John Whyte and Ms Bella Miller. The last member of the team was, of course, Nico (Nicolau Tolentino Faria Pires), our recently contracted, hard working dental therapist, who has been chipping away at the work in Maubara. (Pic: Nico, John Whyte, Sr Filomena, John Moran, Sr Joaninha)
All teams carry a great deal of dental materials and equipment back and forth from TL and we rely heavily upon the goodwill of the airlines. It is not uncommon for each team member to carry 30 kg of goods into TL, without which we could not treat patients, or support all our mentored Timorese clinicians! Thank you Airnorth and Sriwijaya airlines – we appreciate your support!
A trip to TL is never without a few hiccups, and this team proved to be no exception to the rule. The team battled enormous queues to catch their flight from Bali, were stymied by Citilink airline officialdom, which made them pay excess baggage fees for their 9 kg extra, and when they arrived in Dili, there was no one to meet them – our Rotary liaison had forgotten about them! By the time the team finally arrived at their Liquiça accommodation, they were exhausted! Thank God for Black Rock at Caimeo Beach – there’s nothing like a bit of good food and glamping to the sound of lapping waves to soothe away one’s travel woes. (Pic: Bella Miller, JM and JW at Black Rock)
Fully refreshed the next morning, there was a drop in to Maubara to gear up, say “Hi” to Sisters Filomena and Joaninha, and collect Nico, then the team was off to Railaco for the next 5 days. For this team, Railaco is like their second home – the indefatigable Father Bong and his merry men and women always provide a warm welcome. (Pic below: Old and new at Railaco, pic left: JW in his mini-surgery at Railaco secondary school)
The team set up clinic in number of places during this time. They spent the first day in Father Bong’s clinic at the Jesuit Mission, the next two days in the Escola Secundária Católica Railaco, Nossa Senhora de Fátima – the local catholic high school in the sister parish to St. Canice’s in Elizabeth Bay in Sydney and two days in Fahite primary school. The team was kept busy all 5 days and they were most ably assisted by Brother Luis in the high school, and a local Fahite lady, Fátima, who has made it her life’s purpose to improve life for the Fahite community. Fátima originally intended to join the ranks of the catholic Sisters in Timor, who make such a difference to people in the villages; however, after 2 years as an aspirant, she decided she could do more good as lay person. The team found her invaluable as a translator and dental assistant. (Pic below: Fatima of Fahite and JM with the view from the village)
The team noticed a stark difference between the Catholic high school and the government primary school; the environment in Fahite was significantly poorer, with no lights, and large crevasses forming in the floors of the classrooms. This state of disrepair is unfortunately unexceptional in village schools across TL. Fahite, at least, has electricity, even though it was delivered through a single power socket. As always, though, the charm and warmth of the Timorese people, and their extremely well-mannered children, transcends their difficult lives.
In Fahite, the team were again faced with the unique Timorese myth that extracting an upper tooth leads to blindness. All of our teams have found that this belief is extremely difficult to dispel and it often leads to the patient declining treatment. Nonetheless, the busy team had plenty of work to do. John Whyte was the powerhouse of the team, John Moran switched between treating patients, triage and teaching Nico who, being a solid grafter, carried out treatment, assisted John and John, translated and reassured patients. Bella, as all our dental assistants do, attended to all of the clinicians at once, and so she probably worked harder than everyone else put together! At the end of their time in Fahite, the team was serenaded with the national anthem by the entire student body, and waved off by the happy and appreciative community! (Pic: JM restores a smile and extracts a promise from a happy customer!)
The team spent the final 3 days in Kasait Clinic, down the hill from Railaco and not far from Liquiça district. The clinic is fairly new and clean, so it is a real treat for the team to live and work in. Super-organised and helpful, Sr Eliza and her assistant, Manuela, ensured a steady flow of patients from the school and community, without the usual crowd of onlookers (a feat bordering on impossibility!), and provided invaluable assistance with translating, reassuring patients and administration. The second last day was a Sunday, a quiet day in a Catholic country, so with few patients, this enabled Bella to give Nico a much-needed refresher in infection control and gave the team some much needed downtime at Black Rock. (Pic: Curious kids in Fahite)
Nico was a hit with the rest of the team. They found him to be a diligent and highly motivated clinician, who is compassionate and well-mannered, who develops excellent rapport with patients and puts a great deal of effort into every task. That is truly music to our ears! We count ourselves very lucky to have found him. We only have two real issues – we have to break him out of some bad clinical habits that he has picked up along the way, and we still have to improve our communication – but all Timorese seem to soak up different languages effortlessly. Since putting him through one term of English lessons, Nico’s English has already improved greatly! This team put a great deal of mentoring time in with Nico, which has increased his skills and his confidence. With each team’s effort, he just gets better! (Pic above: Nico in training. Pic below: The team in Kasait with Father EJ, JM, JW, BM, Nico, Sr Eliza and Manuela)
The team suffered through the usual equipment issues that make working in TL a challenge – this time the other suction unit played up (our main suction motor was being repaired in the Sunny Coast), our slow speed drill units went on a go-slow industrial action and our autoclave developed disco lights. In addtion, one of the portable chairs developed a fault in which the back suddenly drops – no chance of falling asleep for our already apprehensive patients! Never a dull moment. I see maintenance in the future of the following team. Thankfully, the team’s exit was smoother than their entry and they managed to get home without incidence.
Altogether Team 2 examined 282 patients, extracted 222 teeth, did 313 fillings and 233 preventative treatments. A fantastic effort from a dedicated team. Well done! (Pic: the view from the Esplanada)
Team 2 heads off to TL this Saturday. Dr John Moran will be joined by his usual side-kick, Dr John Whyte, and super-dental assistant, Bella Miller, who is heading out for a second ride! John’s team will, once again, be the guests of Father Bong and his merry men in Railaco. They will be the second team to work with Nico. Have fun team!
Team 1 has returned from a fortnight of fun, food and friendship with our Timorese friends in Maubara and Maubisse. On this trip, our 3-person contingent from Australia (Dr Mary Tuituinnik, Dr Blanche Tsetong and Mrs Yvette Young), was happily far-outnumbered by the Timorese part of the team. (Pic above: Gentle Tino; below: The beautiful Sisters in Maubisse: Sr Eva, Sr Rosa, Sr Inacia, Sr Loudres, Sr Helena – with Yvette, Blanche and Mary)
Amongst our team members in Maubisse, were Dr Inda Zulmira Dias, the new dentist in Maubisse Hospital, as well as Armando da Costa Martins and Ricardo Mendonça, the Maubisse Hospital dental therapists. In addition to our usual tasks, the TLDP is currently assisting the Bendigo-Maubisse Friendship Group, who has been asked by the Maubisse Hospital Director to help improve dental services in Maubisse District. Hence, this trip we worked with the Maubisse dental team to develop a plan about how this could be achieved. Dr Inda is a young and enthusiastic dentist, educated in the Phillipines and full of great ideas and a passion for promoting good oral health. (Pic: Clinical supervision in Maubisse Hospital)
In Maubisse, we were also joined for a day by the bubbly, Ana Tilman, a dental therapist who works with the Kose Nehan group out of Aileu. She was super-fun and a joy to work with. Team 1 also had the task of ‘road testing’ a Timorese dental therapist, Nicolau Tolentino Faria Pires (aka Nico), that we hoped to employ for the TLDP. Nico has a couple of years’ experience, has worked for a couple of other NGOs previously, and has been recommended to us by our mate, Dili dentist, Dr Fernando. Our last team member in Maubisse was our driver, Dionisius Gonsalves (Dion). (Pic: Ana and Nico)
We were so fortunate to have the opportunity to mentor so many clinicians at the same time! We had three days of treatment and clinical supervision in Maubisse, peppered with lots of treats – joyful, delicious and noisy dinners with the Sisters, a soujourn at the Maubisse branch of AHHA helping young Timorese learn English, listening to the haunting notes of the Sisters’ singing early in the mornings, Mary and Dion’s afternoon jaunt with Sr Lourdes to deliver meals (on wheels) – and an oral health workshop for the community thrown in at the end! (Pic above: Dr Inda presenting at the Oral Health workshop; below: Ricardo welcomes the community at our workshop)
For their last 2 days in the mountains, Dr Inda organised an outreach clinic in Hatubulico, a beautiful, extremely peaceful village at the foot of Mt Ramelau, Timor’s highest mountain. Like Mt Fuji, Mt Ramelau has a very particular shape and is instantly recognisable – over the years we have been lucky to view it from all sides. Hatubulico is a 2 hour, super rocky drive from Maubisse, with plenty of spectacular scenery, narrow roads and sharp drop offs to occupy passengers and drivers alike. (Pic: Mt Ramelau from Hatubulico)
As is the case in many remote communities, the dental need is massive and we had a very busy couple of days – four clinicians working, two in ‘normal’ chairs (oh, our backs!!), one dentist supervising the therapists, Yvette assisting everyone, checking the post operative conditions of the patients and sterilising instruments, and Dion doing admin and a very relaxed kind of crowd control. (Pic: Our alfresco clinic – 2 chairs manned by Nico and Ricardo)
We always love alfresco clinics! The team had fun in Hatubulico. We stayed in a pretty swish place (despite the need to share beds and a dearth of blankets, it had running hot water showers that mostly worked!), enjoyed the views and friendly locals whilst walking to work, and even attempted the gnarly track to the start of the Ramelau ascent path (we had to abort halfway because Sister’s car threw a hissy fit. (Pic: Inda and Blanche – impromptu checkups for the crowd)
Week 2 saw the team descending from the cool mountain air into the miasma of the coast. The heat and humidity affected us all, but struck down Yvette one day and Mary the next. The sea, usually a welcome relief, was lukewarm and full of debris and sea-lice. Still, we soldiered on and the second week proved just as exciting as the first. Tino joined the team on the Tuesday and Bony rocked up on Wednesday night. It was lovely to see them both! During the week, the team worked in Maubara Clinic for 2 days, giving the two therapists (Tino and Nico) the benefit of working under Mary’s exacting eye, and Blanche, the opportunity to effect some repairs. (Pic: Yvette, Nico, Blanche, Dion and Mary)
The team also spent a day in Lebotelo treating the primary school and the community and a day in Loes SMP School – both journeys took longer than before. Road degradation continues on apace in Timor! Lebotelo is now a 90 min journey via goat track, not a 30 min soireé up the hill from Maubara, and the road to Loes is literally falling into the sea!
The team fell into a natural rhythm: Sr Filomena and Tino screened the kids, Bony did admin duties and tag-teamed with Tino to give toothbrush instruction, and Nico (tag-teaming with Tino), Blanche, Mary and Yvette got the treatment done – a well-oiled machine!
The only thing that went slightly awry was in Loes when Yvette – driving Sister’s car – temporarily forgot the existence of those rather large drains. Nobody was hurt and there no damage to the car, but Yvette provided a whole bunch of entertainment for the locals at the cost of a slightly bruised street cred.
Although Bony and Tino are old mates, they soon took Nico under their wing and all three were soon carrying on like long lost brothers. Nico was a super hard worker and a careful clinician. We are sure that he will make a good addition to our program. From now on, he will be permanently employed by the program to work both in the clinic and the surrounding Loes/Maubara subdistricts, as well as to work with the teams when they are in Timor. For now, we have enrolled him in English classes in Dili. Hopefully, he will have picked up a word or two by the time John’s team rolls into town in 9 days! All he needs is “No worries!”
Many thanks to all our team members, and to their families, who support them, to our lovely Sr Filomena, Sr Joaninha, and to the Maubisse Sisters. Thankyou to Mario and Judite in the Rotary Liaison office in Dili – your help is essential to our work, and thank you to Henry Schein Halas, who continues to support our program. (Pic left: Novagenerian who fought with the Australians in WW2; right: Full of grace, Sr Filomena and everybody’s favorite dish, Brinzela).
A final note: In my excitement, I forgot the all important stats! Team 1 saw 540 patients, did 378 examinations, filled 94 teeth, extracted 234 teeth, and carried out 21 preventive treatments.
Team 1 arrived home 1 week ago. Since then the TLDP has been busily prepping for the upcoming trip of Team 2, which leaves in 2 weeks. Hold onto your seats; Team 1’s report is coming forthwith!!!
It’s less than 3 weeks until the first team of the year hits the sunny shores of TL, and it’s already shaping up to be a busy 2 weeks. Team 1 consists of only 3 people this year – Dr Blanche Tsetong, Dr Mary Tuituinnik, who has been a long-standing supporter of the program, and has attempted to volunteer with us twice before, but has still yet to set foot on TL soil (third time lucky!); and another newbie, dental assistant extraordinaire, Mrs Yvette Young.
As usual, the team will be laden with all manner of materials destined for our own program, as well as for the clinics in Maubisse Hospital and Gleno Hospital. The dental clinicians that we support have all put in their requests for much-needed materials and equipment. Some things are easier to obtain than others – Armando and Ricardo’s request for needles and filling materials is much easier to attend to than Tino’s request for a headlight! But we do our best! As the time draws nearer, some of the committee members are scrambling to source much needed items – Dr David Sheen has been trying in vain to contact a supplier in India to obtain autoclave seals, and Dr Wayne Pearson is attempting to track down a suitable storage container for our suction unit, as well as Tino’s headlight. Thanks guys!
Many exciting things are happening this year. Our program has been on the lookout for several years for a Timorese dental therapist that we can employ full-time – someone who is not subject to the whims and vagaries of the Health Dept of TL. We have had some good news – our friend, Dr Fernando, thinks he has found us someone who will fit our requirements – a newly graduated Timorese dental therapist, who we will be meeting for the first time this trip. We will be subjecting him to a trial by fire – hope he doesn’t crack!
Another bit of good news is that Maubisse Hospital has recently employed a new dentist! Dr Inda Zulmira Dias is from Los Palos and studied in the Phillipines. This is exciting because for a program to be sustainable, it requires local ownership – now that Maubisse has 2 dental therapists and a dentist, they will be the ones doing the driving! Hence, another task for Team 1 is to collaborate with Dr Inda, Armand and Ricardo to establish how best we can support them in the future.
Between our school and community oral health workshops, clinical and teaching duties and meetings, meetings and more meetings, these are going to be 3 very busy girls! Bring it on!
It’s a new year and with it comes new opportunities, new directions and new friendships. Our year started in Hollywood-fashion, with Sr Filomena (Timorese Coordinator), Bony (intrepid translator and natural showman) and Tino (dental therapist extraordinaire) taking a turn in front of the cameras to showcase our program in a 360° Virtual Reality documentary. Thanks to our mate, Daryl Mills, who, even when he is not living in TL, is still thinking of us!
An serendipitous start to what promises to be an exciting year. This year we are teaming up with the Bendigo Maubisse Friendship Group to improve dental services to the community in the subdistrict of Maubisse, which lies to the south of Dili in the mountains. Up to now, our program has only managed to visit Maubisse once a year; we are hoping that this partnership will significantly increase our capacity to deliver treatment and to better mentor and support the two dental therapists who currently work in the hospital, Armando and Ricardo.
We have 5 teams this year and apart from Maubisse, we will be heading out to Atauro (Dr Wayne loves those huts at Barry’s), Oecusse and Railaco, with the rest of the itinerary to be unveiled by The Boss (Sr Filomena) as the year unfolds. First team kicks off in April. Watch this space!