Team 4 will farewell Australian shores next Saturday. Team Leader, Dr Peter Shakes will be joined by Dr Ashley Freeman and Dr Andrew Frame in the first week, who will then be replaced by the redoubtable Dr Mary Tuituinnik in Week 2. The Timorese team members include Nico Pires, TLDP’s hard-working dental therapist and new Dad, and Ana Paula Dos Santos Tavares Salgado, the team’s translator and dental assistant. Team 4 has already been plagued by misdirected supplies, team members dropping out, and confusion with scheduling;. Hopefully, all the wrinkles have been ironed out now and this team will have some smooth sailing once they get to TL. They are heading to Atsabe and Maubara. Good luck and have fun Team!
It seems that the years fly by faster and faster as we get older. Here we are again at the end of the year, with the silly season looming. At this time, I reflect upon everything that has happened during the year – good and bad – all our achievements, all our losses, and how we have handled it all.
This year has been tumultuous for the Timor Leste Dental Program; we hired a new dental therapist, Nico Pires, at the beginning of the year, in a bid to increase the local ownership for the program. He has proved to be a true asset – a hardworking and competent clinician, who is unafraid to take charge even in the presence of some extremely authoritative (bossy) Aussie dentists. We simultaneously entered into a partnership with the Maubisse-Bendigo Friendship Association, which has increased the support for the Maubisse District, but has also had the effect of increasing (temporarily, we hope!) our workload, as we bring these newcomers up to speed. Maubisse Hospital acquired a new dentist – Dr Inda Zulmira Días – who has already shown her skill in organising the Maubisse sectors for Teams 1 and 5, as well as an ability to connect with the community though our dental workshops. Everyone who got to work with her this year fell in love with her charm and enthusiasm.
Overshadowing everything was a great deal of frustration dealing with the moving goal posts of the new Timorese dental registration process – delays, lengthy meetings with government officials, multiple trips to Dili, mountains of paperwork, and emails, and submission and resubmission of documents…this is still ongoing. All the teams felt the absence of our translator, and friend, Bony, who was in his final year at university. Although he couldn’t work with the teams, he still set aside time to help the TLDP with the registration, as well as sorting out many other details for our teams. Thank you Bony!
The TLDP sent over 5 teams this year. We had a host of new volunteers – Dr Mary Tuituinnik, Dr Marius Mocke, Mrs Yvette Young, Ms Abbey Notley, Ms Liz Thompson, Dr Mengzhu Wang, Ms Malita McCabe, Dr Andrew Frame, Dr Phil Hill and Dr Christine Underhill. It was wonderful to see the way these new volunteers took the Timorese people into their hearts. We also saw the return of our regulars – Dr John Moran, Dr David Digges, Dr Wayne Pearson, Dr Karen Sloan, Dr Geoff Knight, Dr David Sheen, Dr Blanche Tsetong, Ms Bella Miller, Dr John Whyte, Dr Ashley Freeman and Dr Peter Shakes. The people who return, year after year, is what keeps this program running. They are gold.
Sadly, two of our team leaders, Wayne Pearson and David Sheen, claimed that this was their so-called ‘last’ trip to Timor; however, it is hard to resist Timor’s siren song – we think that Timor hasn’t seen the back of them yet! However, by far the biggest blow to the program this year, was the loss of Sr Filomena da Costa – our Timorese Program Coordinator. The Carmelite exec ruled that she had to move to Oecusse to head the community over there; as a relatively young community, they need someone with her 26 years of experience. In one fall swoop we have lost our boss, the best chef in Timor, our spiritual advisor, local folklorist and a quirky, mischievous friend. No prizes for guessing that everyone will be vying for the Oecusse spot from now on! Nico and Sr Joaninha have big shoes to fill.
This year the TLDP treated over 2330 people; we extracted over 1851 teeth, placed over 937 fillings, and carried out 411 preventive treatments. This treatment is worth about $977,650. We facilitated one dental workshop and mentored 6 Timorese dental clinicians over a period of 10 weeks.
We would like to wholeheartedly thank all our fabulous volunteers, who never stint on giving their time and effort to the Timorese people. We would also like to thank their families and friends who support them – they would not be able to do what they do without you. Thank you to all our Timorese workers, partners and helpers. There are always a multitude of local people, often unsung and unseen, who help keep the program running while we are over there – they are teachers, drivers, groundsmen, elders, nurses, passersby – they give because they can, and we are awed by them. A massive thank you to Henry Schein Halas and SDI for their extremely generous donations to our program this year – we would not be able to function without your donations of vital dental materials and equipment. Last, but not least, thank you to our donors – 97% of your valuable contributions go directly towards helping the Timorese people. We are more than grateful for your support. Your contributions pay for equipment and vehicle maintenance, for material and equipment purchases and for the salaries of Nico and other Timorese translators and fixers. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
From all of us at the Timor Leste Dental Program, we wish all our volunteers, our supporters, our donors, our partners and their families, a happy Christmas. We wish you all the best for the new year. Keep safe and well and we will see you in 2018.
If it is true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, the six members of Team 4 must be exceedingly fortified after their stint in TL. Headed by frequent flyer, Dr David Digges, the team consisted of first-timer, Dr Ashley Freeman, our translator, Mr Bonifacio Cardoso Martins (Bony), and tag-teamers, Mrs Liz Eberl, Ms Aisling Digges (both on their 2nd trip) and Dr Geoff Knight (on his 4th trip).
The team spent the first week in Maliana, which is a 5 hour scenic drive west from our base in Maubara. On their way, they stopped at the historic village of Balibo, where they had lunch at the restored Balibo Fort and visited the newly opened dental clinic, managed by the Balibo House Trust. They are also looking for volunteer dentists and the accommodation is 4-star!
Bony and Tino had organised the team’s accommodation and program in Maliana well in advance. The team were met by the welcome party of Bony’s family, who live in Maliana, and stayed in a lovely guesthouse surrounded by mountains, with sweeping views over rice paddies. They spent the first 2.5 days working at the hospital, where they were able to spend some time upskilling Jose, the resident dental therapist. Jose used to work with Australian-trained dentist Dr Amelia Barreto, but like many professionals, she quite rapidly shed her clinical position, moving to Dili to work in the Health Ministry.
The work became a battle when the team moved to the largest conjoined primary and secondary school in Maliana – 1500 children. This is Bony’s alma mater and three of his siblings still attend school there. Team 4 was treated to their first full Bony experience – given a microphone, Bony launched into his usual routine – an encouraging speech, oral hygiene demonstration and the ‘Brushing Song’. No one can withstand his natural charm and enthusiasm!
Notwithstanding the fun atmosphere, the team was in for a gruelling 2.5 days. They treated so many children that the days passed in a blur! Surprisingly, all the equipment held up under the stress, with only one thing marring the otherwise seamless week – Someone locked the keys in the car. This necessitated the convening of a village think-tank and a search through the underbelly of Maliana for one with the necessary skills to retrieve the keys.
The middle weekend is important to the teams. It is the changeover weekend – of people, equipment and locations. It gives us at least a day to recharge ourselves, to effect any urgent maintenance and repairs, and restock our depleted supplies for the following week. Team 4’s weekend was filled with visits to the Maubara orphanage, to the ‘head office’ convent at Fatuhada, showers and internet in Dili (aaaahhhh!!), and lunch with our mate, Mimi Chungue (who found Bony for us – thank you Mimi!). They farewelled Liz and picked up Aisling and Geoff, then headed into Week 2 on the flawless 3 year old road to Railaco.
The teams who have worked with Geoff Knight have always commented on how much they learn from him, especially with regards to using Silver Fluoride/Potassium Iodide to save teeth from the bucket. With continuing donations from SDI, which markets AgF/KI as Riva Star, our teams have enthusiastically added this product, and the treatment protocol developed by Geoff, to our dental ‘toolkit’, both in TL and at home. We are deeply grateful to both Geoff and SDI for their support.
Hence, while the Team sorely missed the presence of Tino, whose baby was hospitalised at the time, they continued to benefit from Geoff’s expertise – Geoff even treated David’s mortally wounded finger with AgF – preventing amputation or worse!
The team shifted a lot this week. The first 3 days they were hosted by the indefatigable Father Bong, who organised the team to work on someone’s balcony in Nasutu the first morning, then spend that afternoon and the following day in Railaco Clinic. The third day the team worked on the back deck of the church in Railaco Leten, which is reached by a very steep, very windy road with stunning views to be enjoyed by everyone except the white-knuckled driver.
The last 2 days the team was sent back down the hill to Kasait, which is near the shipyards on the way to Maubara. The Jesuits have been busy building a clinic and a school there. The team was coddled by Sr Eliza, who is also a registered nurse, and were wined and dined by the Jesuits up above, in Montserrat, a monastery that, like the original, has stunning views over the coast. The team treated both community members and school children, and was ably assisted by a young Jesuit intern, Brother Francisco from Portugal. Again, their seemed to be no problems with equipment this week. Yet again, only one thing marred the seamless nature of the operation – Someone (and I think it was the same ‘someone’) was a tad lackadaisical in the packing of T2, which resulted in the totally preventable breaking of the Bundy bottles and an obscene wastage of good rum!
The team worked their fingers to the bone. Their massive effort saw 973 examined, 427 extractions, 353 teeth filled, 18 cleans and 227 preventive treatments. Well done Team 4! Luckily, they seemed to have also had a fabulous time, hence, they are in no danger of becoming dull anytime soon.
Thank you again to SDI and also to Henry Schein Halas, who also give us huge amounts of materials throughout the year – we would quickly grind to a halt without you. Thank you to all our supporters and to Sr Filomena and Father Bong for organising us while in TL. Our last thank you goes to Bony – whose enthusiasm, good humour and sheer hard work has helped each and every team do their job more effectively this year.
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!