Team 1 arrived home a week ago, tired – and some of us sick – but triumphant. This trip was difficult to organise and challenging on the ground due to the conglomeration of different organisations during the first week- The Timor Leste Dental Program had been joined by Solar Smiles Dental Charity (SSDC), the Bendigo Maubisse Friendship Committee (BMFC), and the Maubisse Referral Hospital (MRH). We all had different ideas and agendas for this first week, but we shared a common goal – to improve the dental health of Maubisse Subdistrict; this made us a highly effective team.
Week one saw us in Maubisse Subdistrict. The TLDP consisted of overall team leader, Dr Blanche Tsetong, the TLDP’s Timorese dental therapist, Mr Nico Tolentino Faria, and translator (as well as sterilisation nurse and dental assistant), Miss Isabel Noronha Pereira de Lima Maia. SSDC was represented by founder, dental recruiter and former dental assistant, Mrs Kim Groizard. Standing with a foot in both camps was Dr Phil Hill, who was volunteering for the TLDP, but was also a member of the SSDC. Dr George Waters represented the BMFC and the MRH brought into the mix Dr Inda Zulmira Dias, dental therapists, Mr Armando Da Costa Martins and Mr Ricardo Mendonça, and assistants, Carlotta and Imelda.
The TLDP and MRC spent the first couple of days in Turiscai treating the community and the school. Turiscai is and isolated village 1 1/2 hours from Maubisse town along the type rough, dirt ridge track that TL is famous for. The scenery is spectacular. We were very busy – the community rarely gets dental services – but our plans for a community oral health workshop were stymied by the campaigning for the upcoming election. (Pic: Phil, Nico & Ota)
The next 3 days the TLDP and MRC visited Rimori School, in a village fringed by sharp mountains, Samoro School, in a valley accessed by a skinny dirt track running beneath towering Madre de Cacao trees and coffee bushes, and the Carmelite Sisters’ Health Clinic back in Maubisse town. Kim Groizard lent a hand at both Rimori and Samoro Schools , enabling her to see a functional outreach clinic in TL in action. As we all know, working in TL has its unique challenges and peculiarities! (Pic: Phil, Isa & Kim)
Week 1 was peppered with meetings, but the most crucial was that with the Chiefs of all the Sucos (akin to shires) in the Maubisse Subdistrict. Phil, Nico and the rest of the gang remained slogging at Samoro, while Blanche, Kim and Inda attended this meeting with George in tow (SSDC will function under the BMFC umbrella). At what Kim described as a “horse auction”, the chiefs sought to get more services for their Sucos. In the end, we came out with a working plan of cooperation between the Chiefs, the Carmelite Sisters, the MRH, the TLDP and the SSDC. Success! (Pic: The view from Rimori)
The weekend, as always, brought the changeover and we said goodbye to the cool hills of Maubisse, the Maubisse crew, and to Kim and George. We were now a solely TLDP team. Blanche, Phil, Nico and Isabel happily welcomed Dr Mary Tuituinnik; less welcome was the oppressive heat and humidity of the coast .
Week 2 had a different flavour to it – the climate introduces an additional layer of difficulty to our job. Also, by that time, both Nico and Blanche were ill; nevertheless, the team carried on – they spent 2 days in the slightly cooler climes of Vatuvou School, in the foothills behind Maubara, and a day in each of the airless, dusty, piping hot schools of Ediri and Vatunau, with one fan, a tin roof and a generator. What made the week flow easily was Phil’s can-do, ever-optimistic attitude, Mary’s gentle humour, Isa’s graceful, caring nature, Nico’s dogged work ethic, and the non-stop gentle pitter patter of Phil and Mary’s chatter – those two can talk underwater!
One of the days we spent assessing and mentoring a dental therapist, Savio, who the SSDC hopes to employ. Like most of the dental therapists we come across in TL, his skills are woefully lacking; however, with the right attitude towards learning, and with lots of support, we know that he could become an excellent clinician. Many of the dental therapists we mentor are now excellent clinicians. (Pic: Savio, Isa & Mary)
Week 2 also had its share of meetings as the TLDP worked with Phil (with his SSDC hat on) to establish more connections in TL. There were many trips back and forth on the Dili Road – meetings with Judite and Mario from the Rotary Liaison in Dili, the Rotary Club Lafaek in Dili, and the Rotary Club Dili at the Klibur Domin Tuberculosis Clinic in Tibar, with a fortuitous meeting with another new dental NGO in Tibar, which works within Kilbur Domin, under the Ryder-Cheshire banner. Developing links is important, especially in this setting, as it allows us to support each other and to share resources – TL is an impossible place to work in solo.
Blanche had meetings with Sr Inacia about the Sister Delfina who the TLDP hopes to support in her dental studies in Indonesia. The TLDP believes that local ownership is the only way for a program to be sustainable. Although Nico is hardworking and committed, he is a “mere” dental therapist and so lacks the clout that being a dentist would give him. He also has family ties that may force him to leave the program one day. Hence – in supporting Sister Delfina to become a dentist we hope to safeguard the program for the future. However, the TLDP was originally led to believe that the degree would cost approx USD 9000 for the first year of study. Instead, it is closer to USD 29000 – a big difference! Nevertheless, we are determined to support her – I see some fundraising in our future!
Team 1 luckily had few equipment issues – 3 broken triplexes, a non-functioning generator, malfunctioning head torches, a dental unit water leak, a total loss of water supply in the accommodation in Maubisse and, at the end, a broken air-conditioning fan belt in the SIsters’ car. Most they managed to fix during the 2 weeks! (Pic: Isabel, Blanche & an iPhone)
Team 1 saw a total of 415 patients, extracted 363 teeth, restored 245 teeth and carried out 39 treatments. With the TLDPs support, the MHR and Nico had screened, given oral health education and carried out a selected treatment to 1439 children prior to the Team’s arrival. A fine example of what cooperation can accomplish!
Thank you to the entire team – you make this program. Thank you to Bony Cardoso Martins, who continues to help us with our Timorese dental registration, which is an exercise in tedium. Thank you especially to Henry Schein Halas, who continues to support our program with stacks of consumables and equipment team after team, year after year. Your generous donations allow us to give more to the Timorese people. Thank you also to SDI who has also helped us with donated materials over several years. Thank you to our partners, the Carmelite Sisters who, with their grace and good company, make it a joy to work in TL. (Pic: Phil, Sr Joaninha, Blanche, Sr Isabel, Mary)