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!
Our next team is ready to hit the road this Friday. The dynamic duo, Dr Andy Moran and Dr Gordon Saggers, is our Railaco-specific team this year. They will spend their entire 2 weeks in the company of the fabulous Father Bong and his merry crew. They will be taking over a new pressure cooker autoclave that we have just purchased from India. This autoclave will live in Railaco, which will mean that Tino (the super-dedicated Timorese dental therapist we mentor), who lives in nearby Gleno, can run a regular outreach clinic there. Good luck and have fun Team 4!
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!
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’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.
The 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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
After much wrestling with the not-unusual sketchy communications which are a characteristic of this line of work, the final stats for Team 2 have hit Australian networks! Even though they had only 8 days to work in (given the surprise public holidays) they examined 354 patients, extracted 230 painful teeth and filled 193 less painful teeth. They also carried out 275 preventive treatments on teeth that could be saved. Well done Team!
As promised, Father Bong and his merry band picked up the equipment for the Timor Leste Dental Program on Sunday and hauled it to Railaco. The heavy weight and unwieldiness of the items proved no obstacle to team’s determination and cooperative efforts to move them into the clinic. Thank you to Father Bong and his team and to Daryl Mills and his team, without whom these dental materials and equipment would still be sitting on the dock in Dili.
Last Thursday, vital supplies for the Timor Leste Dental Program were delivered to Rotary’s Donation in Kind warehouse in West Footscray, Victoria, where in two weeks, they will be placed in a shipping container bound for TL (via Hong Kong!!?) – an unwieldy way to get goods across to a country that remains without a postal system. Many, many thanks go to Ben Sheen, who drove the supplies from Sydney to Melbourne.
Amongst these supplies are an electric dental chair, bound for Railaco, a portable suction unit, a dental drills cart and lots of consumables! Many thanks to the amazing Keith Mentiplay for checking out the chair, to fabulous John O’Connor for overhauling the dental cart, to Dr Gordon Howe for donating the suction unit and to Dentsply for the consumables. Special thanks to Henry Schein Halas for the 15 cartons of gloves, bibs, and masks etc- the Henry Schein Cares team really came through for us at short notice. Thank you Jessica and Kira! I know that our dental teams will truly appreciate NOT having to carry all this stuff to TL this year!
Our gear should arrive in Dili by March 22, where it will be taken in hand by our hardworking Rotary Liaison Officer, Daryl Mills, who seems to effortlessly, and tirelessly, juggle all the needs of all the Rotary Programs in Timor Leste. Daryl will distribute the gear – just in time for the first team which arrives in April! Thanks Daryl!
Like all volunteer programs, the Timor Leste Dental Program exists because of the efforts of a multitude of dedicated, generous, caring people. We are grateful for you all.
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.
As 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.
We 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!