Tag Archives: Blanche Tsetong

The Sublime Grace of Good Friends

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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!

20170504_100551 (2)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!”

IMG_8658 (2)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.20170505_145409 (2)

2017, here we come!

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!

 

 

Happenstance and Opportunity

Pure luck. Being in the right place at the right time. Knowing the right people. Where you were born. Who your family is. Where you grew up. From this, comes opportunity. All of us who volunteer for the TLDP are lucky. We have had the opportunities to thrive in our own communities and we have been given the opportunity to help other communities. We count ourselves blessed.

Team 3 returned from a 3 weekIMG_9566 stint in TL late last Friday. They had already lost one dentist, Yvonne, to health issues a month ago, so they were left with a team of 3 – Blanche, Wayne and Eve. The team lugged in 90kg of supplies to TL, including the new Forrest dental cart and the repaired ultrasonic scaler unit, and sailed through customs, thanks to our soon-to-be departing Rotary Liaison Officer, Daryl Mills. The team bought a mobile phone for the use of the teams’ in-country – only USD 10!!! (Pic: Sr Filomena, Bony, Afonso and the big truck)

Once at Maubara, the team got the gear prepped for the first week in the subdistrict of Letefoho. They left later than expected on Sunday, as they had to wait for Bony, our translator, who was coming from Maliana, where he had just attended his uncle’s funeral. They also had to execute some unforseen repairs on the old and new Forrest units, with help via phone from guru, Keith Mentiplay, in Australia.IMG_9589 But soon they were on their way, with Afonso (One of the Sisters’ drivers who has been on many of our trips before) and Bony, in a borrowed yellow tip-truck, carrying all our less-sensitive gear, and Wayne, Eve and Blanche in T2. The trip took 5 hours; the roads were a quagmire due to unseasonal rain. IMG_9719 (2)

Week 1 was a mixed bag – there were some inauspicious moments – discovering that they had left the needles back in Maubara, continual problems with the electrical supply, the splitting of the team at night for 2 days due to the unsuitability of their first accommodation option (think rats and fetid bathrooms); but there were also multitudinous incidences of care and kindness, joy and thankfulness. The first 2 days were spent in beautiful Lakau. There had been a lot of activity since the team visited this tiny village last year – there is a new Garden of Peace, complete with fishponds and gazebos, a covered community meeting place, and they are in the process of building a grand new church. The villagers were wonderful hosts – Eve’s diet did not get off to a good start. The needle issue arose on Day 1 and was resolved, with amazing rapidity, by Tino bringing them some needles on a borrowed bike, from Gleno (a 4 hour return journey). Tino had just been released from hospital (which is why he wasn’t working with the team)- he is our hero. Bony was also heroic in coordinating the team’s salvation – the negotiation of Lakau’s telecommunication network involved a great deal of climbing atop rickety structures.IMG_9683 (3)

The last 2 days of Week 1 were a dream spent in Goulolo School; the teachers were super-organised and helpful and provided the team with lunch and morning tea; the team was also back together, staying at the well-known Bakhita Centre, a health clinic and guest house ‘down the hill’ from Letefoho, in a pretty valley. Bony came into his own when presented with a microphone at the school; out came tooth brushing instructions, diet advice, jokes and encouragement for the kids – he is a born showman! He  is also a great networker, extremely sociable, very enthusiastic and takes great selfies- we reckon he’ll be President one day! The team’s highlight was the spontaneous eruption of song from the remaining children towards the end of the 2nd day – they  boosted the team’s flagging energy! The joyous song of Goulolo kids

The first weekend had been earmarked for the workshop that Sr Filomena, Blanche, Tino and Aida had been planning IMG_9889 (2)since last July. Also heavily involved was Ligia Ximenes, an attaché to the Timorese Consul General, whom Blanche had met at our big fundraiser in 2014, and who generously gave up her time to do the initial translation of the workshop material – thank you Ligia!!!! Bony had been recruited in April and he had spent a lot of time with Tino and Blanche discussing the workshop. The plan was for all three to meet back at Maubara in the afternoon on Friday to go over the presentation and to set up for the next day, which was to start at 8am. The reality was vastly different. The borrowed overhead projector had no cords with it. Tino and Bony stayed in Dili until 8pm at first looking for a replacement, and then waiting for the cords to be delivered to them. They arrived in Maubara at 9pm, and the team stayed up into the wee hours going over the material. IMG_9927 (2)The next day the projector refused to work for 2 hours, but no one showed up until 10.30, so that was ok! IMG_9912 (2)The presentation went well – Tino’s delivery was excellent – and all the participants (local doctors, nurses and midwives) found the information enlightening. Success! Tino was especially happy to have been given the opportunity to present the workshop and is keen to do it again. Tino is the TLDP’s longest mentored dental therapist and  he has now been given the opportunity to teach students of his own from the University of Timor Leste – he is a measure of our program’s success.

Week 2 was spent with 3 days in Maubara Clinic, a day at the community centre in Guiço, and 2 days in Atabae Hospital, where Bony’s brother is a doctor.IMG_9975 (2) Three very different locations – a small clinic; an open-air pavilion where the team was helped by the local health post director, Mr Paulino, who made all announcements to the patients via loud speaker; and the foyer of Atabae Hospital’s newly built administration building. In all three locations, electricity was sporadic. IMG_9947 (2)

Only in Maubara was there water on tap. Bony had lots of experience with sterilisation, with giving post-operative instructions,  and with divining what the dentists were trying to say. (Pic: Mr Paulino in Guiço)IMG_0059Unfortunately, the dentists discovered that nodding and saying ‘yes’ was not truly indicative of our translator’s understanding. A pact was made with Bony – he would tell them what he thought they were trying to convey (before delivering it to the patient) and they would give him more context. Bony was an excellent member of the team. His light-hearted company and the insight into Timorese culture was priceless. The team, especially Mana Eva, sadly parted from him at his home in Dili, which is almost prophetically close to the Presidential Palace! (Pic: Mana Eva and Bony)IMG_0066.JPG

Week 3 saw a 2 hour lumbering boat ride bring the green-hued team to the beautiful, reef- encircled, mountainous island of Atauro, which sits between two of the deepest ocean trenches in the world – 3000 and 5000m apiece! In contrast to the rest of TL, the population is a largely protestant. The people live in scattering of villages, many only accessible by water or foot. On a short visit last year, Wayne and Blanche had been asked by some of the locals to provide a dental service for this remote area. Two expats, Kevin Austin, who runs boat transfers to the island, and Barry Hinton, who owns an eco-resort with his wife, Lina, offered to help the team get over to the island, and to house, feed and transport them. IMG_0076So lucky Team 3 found themselves dossing down in waterfront grass huts at Barry’s Place in Beloi. Quiet, relaxing, super-clean with great food – the team recommend this as a great place to get off the treadmill and de-tech. Click here to go to Barry’s Place. Barry, Lina and Kevin provide many employment opportunities and training for the local Timorese people and are heavily involved in improving health and well-being on the island. (Pic: Blanche’s hut)

The team set up shop in a corridor of the Vila Hospital, about 10 min drive from Barry’s. Vila hospital opens at 9am, closes at 3pm and has no running water or electricity.IMG_0116 (2) Barry had spent a week fixing a diesel generator for the team (thanks Barry!), but they had to carry water in. Already tired, the team slogged through 3 days of heat, diesel fumes and some of the longest, largest teeth and hardest bone they had come across in TL. Many of the patients had walked for hours, often starting in the dark, to attend the clinic. Due to the patient’s early morning habits, the team ran out of patients by about 3pm each day, and so there was time for a recuperative snorkel and restorative beer. Unfortunately, Barry’s own generator was on the blink and his fridges had to rely on town electricity – available from 6pm to 6am. This equated to warm beer…or warm coke in the case of Mana Eva – yuk. (Pic: One of Lina’s health initiatives for local women – Zumba! They will be entering a Zumba competition in Dili at the end of the month)

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It was a productive trip. The team saw 387 patients, did 266 examinations, extracted 394 teeth, filled 185 teeth, did 108 preventive treatments, 27 cleans and 1 root canal treatment. They put a successful workshop under their belt and tested all the TLDP equipment. Mana Eva also went snorkelling for the first time, got on a small plane for the first time, and ate every strange vegetable that came her way! Good job Team 3! (Pic: Bony, Mana Eva, Blanche, Tino and Wayne)

 

Team 3 is GO

Team 3 will converge on Brisbane Airport early tomorrow morning  as they start the journey to TL. Consisting of Blanche Tsetong, Wayne Pearson and super-excited newbie, Eve Shepard, the team will be in Tl for 3 weeks in the Letefoho, Maubara subdistricts and the beautiful island of Atauro.

The team has finally taken delivery of our brand new Forrest Dental Cart which is intended to replace our ageing and increasingly unreliable ADEC unit. WE are very excited! They will also be taking over much needed donations of dental materials from Henry Schein Halas, Queensland and Northern Territory Health and from Fitzroy St Dental Practice in Grafton. THANKYOU to all our fabulous supporters.

Dental care in Motion

Team 2 returned from another productive trip in TL 2 weeks ago – we have yet to hear the official ‘down low’ from them, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, it is rumoured that the ship that carries TLDP’s precious supplies (which were sent in February) has docked – finally – in Dili. Accidentally mixed in with the goods destined for the new Balibo Dental Clinic, another Rotary initiative, they will be then delivered to Balibo. Our good friend, Ricardo Krauskopf, who will be sorting out the mess at the Balibo end, has volunteered to personally deliver our supplies to Maubara – Yaaaay!

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Bony, Tino’s wife, Ghya, Tino and Blanche

 

Team 3 has lost a team member, but is otherwise ready to head off in July. The usual crew of Dr’s Wayne Pearson and Blanche Tsetong will be joined by super-enthusiastic dental nurse, Eve Sheppard. Together with the redoubtable Sr Filomena, Aida, Tino, Bony and Blanche are presenting an Oral Health workshop to health workers and youth workers this visit. It has been an enjoyable challenge producing the Powerpoint presentation and handout for the workshop. Apart from the meetings with Sr Filomena, Aida, Tino and Bony in April to discuss content and translation, the air has been burning with the number of WhatsApp messages and emails crossing the atmosphere! A huge thank you to Ligia Ximenes, an aide to the Timorese Consul General in Sydney, who generously volunteered her time for the huge task of the initial translation. Thank you so much Ligia!!!

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The extraordinary nature of Serendipity

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A late nani tasi

Team 3 returned to Australia last week following a productive fortnight. This was team leader Blanche Tsetong’s tenth trip to TL, so for her, this trip had a celebratory glow from the outset!

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Lunch in Loes

The team also comprised Dr Wayne Pearson – on his 8th trip – and Sally Stephens – already on her 3rd trip in one year! The team was joined by Aida in the first week and together they treated patients in Maubara Clinic, Pauirobo Primary School and Loes High School. Blanche and Aida tag-teamed a chair, while Sally and Wayne made a dynamic duo. The team were particularly impressed with the kids’ teeth at Loes. This school had last been visited by one of our dental teams in 2010, however, it was also one of those schools targeted by a oral health education workshop run in 2008 by Sandra Meihubers and Timorese dental therapist, Elisabeth, as well as a toothbrushing program run by Sr Filomena. The team was pleased that the fillings that the dentists had placed were still there – good quality work – but they were even more impressed that the oral hygiene and decay rate had dropped significantly – evidence of the importance of education. Plans are afoot for Aida, Blanche and Sr Filomena to do a refresher workshop next year and will involve not only school teachers, but also local doctors and nurses.

Aida with some help from Mom
Aida and a helpful Mom

Aida’s skills in diagnosis have improved dramatically and she is now a dab hand at extractions (although she says that her confidence diminishes without the team’s ‘safety net’). We are now working on increasing her experience with fillings in the front teeth. She is a great clinician and the team thoroughly enjoyed their week with her.

The first week was plagued by team erosion – Sr Filomena is now the Big Boss at Maubara and so she had to attend several meetings over the week; Sally was struck by a lurgy which took her out of active service for a day (although she spent that day doing more stocktaking than resting!), nevertheless, the team still managed to finish treating all the students in Loes, in part due to exceptional teacher management.

P1010791 P1010768The end of the first week marked the 25th anniversary of Sr Filomena’s entry into the Carmelite order. This extraordinary woman has been serving the Timorese people for a quarter of a century and she remains humble, joyous and full of love and energy. All who have participated in the program feel truly privileged to have spent time with her. Congratulations Sr Filomena! Felicidades! Parabéns!

Night work in Letefoho
Night work in Letefoho

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Week 2 was spent in Letefoho subdistrict, where the team worked again in their room-with-a-view under the imposing Letefoho church, and visited the nearby villages of Lakau and Lauana. It was a busy, tiring, amazing week. The team arrived in Letefoho just in time to witness the celebration of the Bishop’s inaugural visit – they spent half a day immersed in the spectacle of the crowds, the traditional music and dancing, soaking up the fervour. Once mass was over, the crowds progressed to the dental clinic – the team worked late that night.

Pre- Sr Bernadette
With Sr Bernadette
With Sr Bernadette

For the rest of the week, the team was joined by the ebullient Sr Bernadette, who undertook the tasks of patient registration, catering, drug, sticker and toothbrush dispensing, and crowd control – the team was Organised! Her happy company lifted our hearts the entire week.

Our Lakau clinic
Our Lakau clinic

The visits to Lakau (8.6km) and Lauana (17.8km) were each an hour’s worth of 4WD adventures away from Letefoho. Lakau was extremely windy, perched on the side of a mountain and the team worked in a little bamboo building with a metal roof that threatened to take off with each gust. Lauana, at a little lower altitude, was surrounded by towering Madre de Cacao trees; the church at the top of its steep streets commanding beautiful views over the valley.

The team with the Maubisse boys
The team with the Maubisse boys

The team was in for yet another happy surprise that week. Tino (the Timorese dental therapist we support in Gleno), who had been unable to accompany us due to illness, showed up on Wednesday with Armando, the Timorese therapist we support in Maubisse, who had also brought Ricardo Mendonça, the new dental therapist working with him! Tino was still sick, but was needed as a guide for the Maubisse boys.

With wonderful Tino
With wonderful Tino

Armando felt that he urgently needed more tuition in extractions and reasoned that the 3 hours they spent with the team was worth the 8 hour round trip from Maubisse. It is such dedication that inspires and motivates us in the TLDP. It was a fabulous treat for the team to reconnect with all our Timorese dental therapists in one trip, as well as to meet a new one!

P1020054 The team had a great time in Letefoho. Despite the bracingly cold showers in 12 degree temps (the Fathers are hardcore!), our host, Father Elio, was great company and the hospitality of his crew was second-to-none. Now that he has built a new guesthouse, larger teams will also be able to experience this beautiful area with it’s friendly people.

As always there were the equipment issues particular to working in TL – leaking foot pedals, out-of-control algal growths, the mysterious and inexplicable disappearance of an oil cap after leaving it aside for 60 seconds – but the team took it all in their stride. It was a successful trip – Team 3 treated 516 people, did 370 examinations, 393 extractions, 186 fillings and 169 preventive treatments. Well done team! Thank you to the Maubara crew – Sr Cecilia, Sr Filomena and Idalina; the Letefoho crew – Fr Elio, Fr Ino, Fr Eduardo, Fr Alberto, Mana Lulu and Sr Bernadette; and our Dili crew – Daryl – for making this trip so memorable.

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