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!