Tag Archives: David Digges

The Power of Many

Team 2 has returned home safe and sound. In the past couple of years, our teams seem to have become quite large as a general rule, as our Australian volunteers are matched in numbers by Timorese employees. This team consisted of Australian volunteers, Dr David Digges (Team Leader), Dr Henry Gilkes, Ms Liz Eberl, and the tag teamers – Dr Geoff Knight and newcomer, Dr William Hariman. The Timorese contingent consisted of Ana de Jesus Barreto Tilman (AT), Ana Paula Dos Santos Tavares Salgado (AT), Nicolau Tolentino Faria Pires (Nico), Isabel Noronha Pereira De Lima Maia (Isa), Bonifacio Cardoso Martins (Bony), and Diamantino Correia Morais (Tino). Hence, at any given moment, this team had 3 dentists, 2 or 3 dental therapists, a dental assistant/steri nurse and 2 translators/dental assistants/admin officers. A massive team!

DD, HG, Isa, AP, AT, LE, Nico, GK

The team spent the first few days hosted by the Sisters in Bobonaro. The girls got to stay with the Sisters themselves, but the boys were housed in the Sisters’Tuberculosis clinic  – we suspect that they will be looking for some new digs next year! The team spent the first 2 days operating in the meeting room of Gumer Primary School, with the nearby High School kids walking over. Gumer is an isolated valley between Bobonaro and Maliana and  there are 800 children in these 2 schools, many of whom have very poor oral health. The team soon realised that on Day 1, but were able to broaden their scope on Day 2. 

The fabulous GK in action with the equally fabulous Isa

For the remainder of the week, the team shifted accommodation to Maliana –  this is the Big Smoke in this area, and the team gets to enjoy a little luxury. Isa’s Mom runs Restaurant Maliana, so the team is well-fed when they live here. Day 3 and 4 saw the team working out of a very impoverished village called Memo, 30 minutes west of Maliana and within spitting distance of the Indonesian border. They found it a little unerving to be able to see an Indonesian Military checkpoint from the school where they set up. The villagers here had never seen a dentist.

Tino and the omnipresent Ana Tilman!

Day 5 was changeover day – the team started working out of Maliana Hospital. Bony and Tino arrived together on what would have been a very long, dusty and bumpy tandem ride from Dili. Bony still managed to look immaculate coming off that bike – some people just have that knack! Geoff headed back to Dili – any team lucky enough to have Geoff with them benefits from his wealth of knowledge, especially with Silver Fluoride, which we use extensively in our work over in TL. William had been picked up from the airport by one of Isa’s friends and was put straight on the tools when he arrived in Maliana – no problem for William!

The team spent the next 2 days treating the community as well as students from the High School. This team is impressive with its logistics. They split into two teams, with screening and transportation of the students carried out by Bony, Willian, Tino and Liz, and treatment carried out in the hospital by Nico, Henry and David. Translation, sterilisation and patient marshalling were efficiently handled by AP, Isa and AT. After working late, the team had sunset drinks on the rooftop terrace – a last hurrah with Isa, who is now employed by Maluk Timor as the Oral Health Coordinator for all the dental charities that come to TL – we wish her well, but are very sad that she will no longer be spending so much time with us!

Week 2 was spent closer to our home base, Maubara. Three days were spent visiting Loes Orphanage, which we have never been before, Loes School (one of our regular schools) and Tapamanolu School (last seen in 2012 – very hard to get to). This involved a commute of 40 min along the crumbling coast road. The last 2 days were spent in Ediri School, one of the schools in our program.

The team with HG, WH and DD on the tools

What a hectic schedule!!! The team did a fabulous job – there was heaps of mentoring for Nico, Tino, Ana Tilman and Ana Paula, a whole stack of work got done, and they all had a great time! Henry did a super job of keeping us updated on social media. What more could we ask for?

Back in Maubara with Sister

The TLDP is exceedingly lucky to have so many dedicated volunteers who continue to come back year after year. We are even luckier that we are supported in our work by dental companies such as Henry Schein and SDI. And we are the luckiest to have so many enthusiastic, hardworking, talented  Timorese people working with us. We are immensely grateful in particular, to our primary partners, The Carmelite Sisters, who smooth our way through the bureaucracy of TL. Our program has carried on unabated despite constant changes in the Ministry of Health over the past few years.

The home team watched over by Henry

Nico and AT have become an excellent home team. They are in charge of the Maubara Clinic and our school dental program – Nico is an excellent operator and has the confidence of the Sisters – that is a HUGE endorsement! Although we initially employed Ana Tilman as a dental assistant, she too is trained as a dental therapist and so is now also benefitting from mentoring within the team environment. Her skills are on the up!

We are especially lucky to have an unofficial Timorese Committee of bright, young people – AP, AT, Nico, Tino, Bony and Isa – they are expert problem-solvers and can-do people. They are unstoppable!

Henry trials the new hand washing unit

Team 2 itself was pretty lucky – there were minimal repair issues, although they did get a flat tyre on the way home from Maliana – changing tyres in the dust and heat could not have been fun. They also were the first to try out our brand new custom-made portable hand washing unit – for all those places with no running water (it was a hit! Conceived in the Sunshine Coast, Made in Grafton), and they were the first team to wear our new spic uniforms!! 

Overall, the team examined 1350 people, they extracted 467 teeth, placed 770 fillings, and carried out 722 preventive treatments. Well done Team!

THANKYOU AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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.

All work and no play….

Enroute to Maliana - DD, LE, AF
Enroute to Maliana – DD, LE, AF

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).

flagThe 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's family
Bony’s family

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.

liz-post-op

bony-and-the-masses-2
Bony and the masses

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!

dd-and-af-in-malianaNotwithstanding 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.

Railaco clinic
Railaco clinic

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!

A clinic with a view
A clinic with a view

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.

cheeky-boysThe 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.

At Black Rock
The last hurrah at Black Rock

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.

 

 

Last Team for 2016

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!

Welcome Home Team 5!

Team 5, headed by Dr David Digges, arrived home on the weekend, safe and sound. We await their report with much anticipation, however, it may be awhile – we received an unusual call from our lovely Sr Filomena on the day that the team left. The team worked very hard, she reported, and were very tired. What dedication! Well done team and welcome home!!

Last team to TL

Hot on the heels of Cowboy and Snake, TLDP’s last team for 2015 leaves Sydney today. After overnighting in Darwin, they will hit TL’s shores on Saturday. The team is a conglomerate of first time volunteers and seasoned TLDP-ers. Carolyn and David Digges will be joined by yet another member of the intrepid Digges family, David’s sister, Elizabeth, as well as newcomer dentist, Charmaine White. Geoff Knight will also be adding his considerable experience to this team in the second week when this team heads out to Bobonaro. Have fun team!

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE TLDP

As 2014 draws to a close, one naturally reflects upon the year which has passed so rapidly. It has been an exceedingly busy and exciting year for all of us in the Timor Leste Dental Program. We have welcomed a whole bunch of new volunteers and said our sad goodbyes to those who have called it a day. It has been a year of outrageously intense fundraising and thanks to all our supporters, we managed to not only achieve our goal of buying a new Troopie – T2 – but we have been able to raise money that will carry us forward for the next few years. Your generosity and support has been overwhelming and we are grateful not only for your financial support, but also for  your ideas and advice.

Sr teachingAs this goes to press, we are preparing to transport a second hand dental chair  (donated by Dr David Sheen) to our new partners, the Jesuit Mission in Railaco. This chair will  be useful when our teams are in Railaco and we are hoping it will also be useful for Father Bong, a medical GP, for procedural work. With the chair goes a second portable suction unit, donated by Dr Gordon Howe of Manly, and a portable dental unit as well. We are also hoping to sneak in 119 boxes of gloves with the ‘package’ so the teams don’t have to lug around so much luggage next year. Fingers crossed! The ‘package’ will be sent to Melbourne by courier, to be placed on the next shipping container to Dili.

church bellWe have had an unprecedented number of volunteers putting up their hand for 2015, and I am happy to report that our increased profile has allowed us to send 5 teams in 2015 – we may even have a 6th! Our volunteer year kicks off in late April with Team 1 being lead by David Sheen, who will be accompanied by the super enthusiastic Peter Shakes and equipment guru Keith Mentiplay. Team 2, lead by John Moran and his talented daughter, Sam, will head out in early June.  Newcomers, Dr Mary Tiutuinnik and Beth Bowen  will join Team 3 in late July, with  Blanche Tsetong and jack-of-all-trades Wayne Pearson. Team 4, lead by super chilled David Digges, with dental legend, Geoff Knight, will leave late August. Team 5, consisting of Andy Moran (Snake), Gordon Saggers (Cowboy) and Alan Christie (Agatha) will head to TL in mid- September and will be the first of our teams to work in Railaco only. For advice on those nicknames – I am reliably told it is secret Railaco business – apply to Father Bong.

Thank you to all of our volunteers, our long-suffering families, our friends and supporters for everything you have given to the program this year. We wish you all a safe, very happy Christmas and a super new year! See you all in 2015!