Team 3 has returned from a difficult trip to Timor Leste this month. The team leader, Dr Wayne Pearson, says that he found it difficult to write a positive report; hence, the tardiness of this update. In addition to Wayne, the Australian contingent of Team 3 consisted of Dr Karen Sloan, Sally Stephens and newbies, Dr Marius Mocke and Abbey Notley. The Timorese component of the team consisted of Nico Pires (our in-residence dental therapist, Bony Cardoso Martins (friend, translator, fixer) and the redoubtable Sr Filomena.
The team ran into their first problems with the airline, Airnorth before even leaving Australian soil. Airnorth’s system refused to recognise the TLDP’s current NGO status and so there were issues with the materials and equipment heading over. The team eventually sorted that out – money will fix almost anything. They arrived in Dili and were met by Judite and Mario, the Rotary Liaison team who handles much of the minutiae for many of the Rotary programs in TL. They liaise with customs to ensure that our dental gear gets through, pay bills for us, and deliver our car to the airport for us, which they keep safe when we were not in town. They are indispensable.
The team then met with Bony, who advised them of the new registration required for foreign dentists volunteering in TL. As mentioned in the previous report, this involved a great deal of documentation – two statutory declarations in Tetum and Portuguese, a copy of the passport, two passport photos, a copy of the dental registration, a copy of the degree certificate, a curriculum vitae in Tetum and, of course, a fee of USD 25. This was to be presented in person to the Ministry of Health and then there would be a wait of two weeks for it to be processed, after which the dentist could carry out their volunteer duties. Logistical difficulties were immediately apparent to the team – our teams are only in TL for two weeks! Having arrived earlier in the week, Sally had already bought the team’s general supplies and they finally got to Maubara in time for dinner with Sr Filomena.
(Pic: TL from afar – seemingly peaceful and pristine)
The next day, instead of starting work, the whole team, plus Sr Filomena and Bony, trooped back to Dili for an interview with the Ministry of Health (MoH). As the team were already in TL and had their AHPRHA registration, Dr Jaõa Manuel, who is in charge of professional registration, gave the team a once-off permission to work in TL. However, the following teams would have to comply with the new rules. As a concession to our short visits, he said that documents could be sent over in advance, but Wayne pointed out that this would be difficult when there is no postal service to TL; in addition, having to translate the documents into 2 different languages might prove to be a big deterrent to volunteers. Dr Manuel agreed, but this was the will of the political arm of the MoH, so it must be complied with. It was decided that the documents would be sent over to Bony by Blanche via email; Bony would do the necessary translations and then deliver the documents to the MoH. The team seemed to have arrived at a workable solution that the MoH was happy with. Disaster averted, the team had a well-earned lunch at Black Rock in Cameo Beach, Liquiça.
[Since then, the Ministry of Health has changed its mind. It wants originals of the CV, in a particular format, and originals of the statutory declarations, not scans. It has now added that it wants a criminal check as well. The TLDP is still trying to work out how we are going to do this in advance of our teams’ arrivals] (Pic: A fuzzy of most of the team: From Left bottom, Bony, Abbey, Sally, Karen and Marius)
The remainder of the week was taken up by a clinic in Guiço, and a couple of days in Klinik Maubara. Karen, Marius and Abbey spent a lot of time with Nico, honing his diagnostic skills; this is of prime importance, as most of the time he has no one else to seek advice. Sally spent a great deal of time sorting out the stores – the MoH has also developed stricter protocols on materials. On top of his clinical tasks, Wayne attended to maintenance, reconstructing the suction unit with the reconditioned motor which Blanche dismantled earlier this year. Wayne and Sr Filomena were summoned to the MoH again, this time to meet with the official who’s jurisdiction includes Atauro. This official told Wayne that he needed to provide her with an official letter so she could inform the people that they were coming. Despite assurance that, in fact, our visit had been planned a year ago with the local Atauro health authority, that Sr Filomena had been in close communication with the Director of the Hospital in Atauro, and that the people already knew the team was coming, a letter was demanded by close of business the next day. This necessitated a return to Maubara, where Sr Filomena produced a very official letter, with lots of stamps and signatures, and a quick return to Dili by motorcycle by Nico by 1pm on Friday.
The week was rounded off by dinner at the orphanage where, like so many of us before, the team was charmed and entertained by the Sisters’ young charges. All of us are no stranger to the upwelling of maternal feelings during these visits, but apparently, Abbey was particularly affected by the experience.
(Pic: The Nakroma – unloading at the Atauro end)
Saturday saw the team off to Atauro. In true Timorese fashion, boarding the vessel was colourful chaos. Although passenger tickets are available the day before, vehicle tickets are only purchasable on the day of departure – and even with a ticket, there is no guarantee of getting on board. The team had to hustle to fit both vehicles with all the gear onto the boat – Sister’s car was the second last car on! At least one other vehicle was turned away. The trip over was otherwise uneventful and the team arrived, unscathed, at Barry’s Place which, as always, was simultaneously a hive of activity and an oasis of peace. This time they were hosting a TEDX talk in the dining area! After meeting the local administrator, Mr Lucas, and hammering out a few details, the team was then free to soak off the frustrations of the previous week over the remainder of the weekend.
The team set up in the Vila hospital for the first 3 days and they were kept busy as usual. They had few problems with the equipment – only a dicky chair with a threaded screw, which they jury-rigged with a strap. They even had lights and a fan from Day 2 after paying for some fuel for the hospital generator on Day 1. The final two days they went up the hill to Biquelli for 2 days. Here there was a lot more work, as these people have never had a dental service. They were ably assisted by Mr Lucas and a young German volunteer, Fransiska, who both helped with translation and reassuring patients. Timor is amazing in that way – one gets random help from everywhere.
In total, the team treated 213 patients, extracting 371 teeth, placing 162 fillings, cleaned 21 people’s teeth and placed 17 fissure sealants. They were disappointed that their trip was not more productive. However, judging their trip by figures undervalues the peace building and diplomatic work that they carried out, which cannot be measured by numbers. In meeting with the MoH, working with Sr Filomena, Bony and Nico, and continuing Nico’s training, the team’s efforts were not only valuable, but vital for the continued growth and evolution of the program. On a personal level, dealing with difficult situations and difficult people inevitably delivers insight into oneself and encourages personal growth. As far as the TLDP is concerned this trip was not only a success, but a big win for all involved. Well done Team 3!! (Pic: Mr Lucas and Fransiska)
THANKYOU. An especially BIG thank you to Bony for his continued trips to above and beyond for this program. We would be a dead duck in the water if not for him. Thank you to Nico for his excellent work ethic and his willingness to learn from us and to take on the responsibility of the clinic. Thank you to Karen and Sal for the hard slog in the storeroom and to Karen for taking Nico under her wing. Thank you to Marius and Abbey for throwing your effort into the team – it’s a hard place to work. Thank you to Barry for his organisational skills and support for our teams in Atauro. Last, but not least, thank you to Henry Schein Halas for continuing to support out work with much needed materials. We appreciate it. No pics at the moment, folks – its slow going!