Tag Archives: dental program east timor

Nico and Ana giving oral hygiene instruction to school kids

TWO’S COMPANY, NINE’S A PARTY – LAST TEAM FOR 2019

The TLDP’s volunteering year has come to an end after Team 5’s return last week. The team was big even by TLDP standards.  The Australian contingent  consisted of Team Leader, Dr Blanche Tsetong, returnee Dr Mary Tuituinnik and newbies, Dr Kim Hartley and Dr Lesley Leong, with Mr Keith Mentiplay arriving for Week 2. The Timorese division comprised the usual suspects  – Mr Nico Pires, Ms  Ana Tilman and Ms Ana Paula  Salgado – with the addition of Mr Tino Morais for Week 2 –  plus Dr Inda Dias rocked up for a couple of days during the first week and Mr Savio Moreira snuck in for a day and a bit . The ring-ins come to learn – we welcome all-comers!

The main team
The core crew – Ana Paula, Leslie, Kim, Blanche, Ana Tilman, Mary and Nico

Week 1 was spent in the Maubisse Subdistrict. After the quickest trip to Maubisse EVER – 2.5 hrs up the new, yet still unsealed road, the team was delighted to find that they could stay with the Carmelite community. In the preceding couple of years, our longtime partners had increasing difficulties fitting a team into their accommodation, and so TLDP teams were forced to try their luck elsewhere, with variable results. This time, the team arrived to a newly constructed building, which even had hot running water at times! As usual, it was an absolute delight to take their meals with the Sisters and the team was thoroughly spoiled with big breakfasts, feasts for lunch, scrumptious afternoon teas and multi-course dinners.

The View from Gruto School
The View from Gruto School

The team spent their first 2 days at Gruto School, which is down a steep, rough, dirt road. The views were fabulous. On the second day, as it was just down the hill from Gruto, Blanche, Ana Paula and Ana Tilman went down to see if there were any kids that had pain and wanted treatment. At first it seemed like it was going to be a bust – although plenty of kids dobbed in their mates,  there were no volunteers. It just needed one brave child to break the ice…and then there was a full car!

The next 2 days were spent at Fleixa School, another school with a spectacular view, but with no electricity or running water. This was a large school on the main road to Same, and the team was flat out trying to get through all the kids, as well as see some of the adult members of the community. The difference between the more remote Gruto and Samoro,  and Fleixa was stark – Fleixa’s kids had much more decay than the other two schools, probably because of easier access to junk food.

Day 2 in Fleixa fairly flew by, and  it seemed like the team was going to finish work at a reasonable hour for a change. All the equipment was working, the sterilisation was finished and they were starting to pack up. Then Inda let in a ‘last-minute-easy-patient’. It took the combined efforts of one dental therapist and 3 dentists, plus an extra hour to extract  that ‘easy’ wisdom tooth!

Our senior dental therapist, Nico, is a quiet achiever. After 3 years of mentoring, his skills are formidable.

After an abortive attempt to work at the not-famous-Balibo School, the team’s final day in Maubisse was spent in the Sisters’ Clinic. Despite letters and multiple phone calls to the Principal, the team arrived after a gnarly drive up a goat track to find another spectacular view…. and the school deserted. At least the drive was interesting! The roads in the subdistricts are challenging and Leslie found this out on the job. In Sisters’ car,  he had a near miss with a horse, got stuck in a rut on the steep track out of Gruto and fell into another ditch on the drive down from Balibo. It’s a good thing that he is blessed with unshakable aplomb!

Blanche and Nico fixing suction
Fixing the suction unit

The suction broke down on Day 1, necessitating hours of repair work; mysterious water leaks sprung from the dental units that were ‘fixed’ with gaffa tape and plastic cups; and there was a bunch of other niggly faults in the equipment that had plagued everyone for the whole year. Like all the teams before them, Team 5 treated this as par for the course, all the while counting down the days and hours to when our equipment guru, Keith Mentiplay, would arrive and make it all better. What made these little annoyances easier to bear was the team had managed to borrow 2 extra dental chairs from Solar Smiles while they were in Maubisse, and so the work still flew. Having 5 purpose-built chairs going at once made it easier to mentor clinicians without significantly slowing down the pace at which they saw patients. It was great! Thanks Solar Smiles!

It’s always a blast with the Sisters

The team left their beer in Maubisse. DISASTER. Luckily, this was mitigated by the arrival of two old friends – miracle-working equipment-whisperer, Keith, and long-time mentee, Tino – so Week 2 was off to a great start! Although the entire team stayed at Maubara this week there were so many people that they had to split into 2 locations to sleep. Dinners were raucous feasts with the Sisters at the Orphanage, which kept everyone super happy.

The second week was characterised by long commutes, dust-choked air and crowded cars.  The TLDP’s School Dental Program includes 17 schools. Some of these are impossible for Nico and Ana Tilman to get to by motorbike – they are too far away and the roads are too rough – so a team is needed to help them out.

The crazy kids in Faulara

The team spent the first 2 days at Faulara, which is on the farthest edge of Maubara subdistrict. The drive took 1.5-2 hours each way and resulted in some extremely long days. There were lots of waterway crossings, and then a drive UP a waterway to the school. The first return trip shredded one of the tyres on our precious Troopie.

Beers and tyres
Keith the equipment whisperer
Keith the equipment whisperer and his newest acolyte

The teeth in Faulara were not too bad – again, probably due to the remote nature of the village. And there was electricity! Over those 2 days, the team managed to check all the kids, Ana Tilman performing  her by-now-familiar toothbrushing pitch to all the classes, and everybody pitched in with treatment and mentoring. And in the meantime, Keith fixed and tested everything! The team was now working like a well-oiled machine, so they managed to finish early at Faulara, break down the clinic, and drive to nearby-ish Guiçu School to set up the clinic for the next day.

 

Keith and Tino on a road trip
Keith and Tino on a road trip

It was a huge relief to the team that Guiçu is closer to Maubara – only 1 hour each way on bad roads for the next 2 days! While most of the team was tasked to see the school under Mary’s watchful eye, Blanche and Keith were absent for most of the next 2 days. Blanche headed into Dili for meetings (and to buy tyres). Keith accompanied a grateful Tino on a 4-hour return motorbike adventure to Gleno Hospital in order to check out Tino’s non-functioning chair. He was able to get the  drills, light and triplex working, but was unable to get the chair moving again – luckily, it is stuck in a good position! Keith also serviced all the equipment in our Maubara clinic and ran his eye over the clinic’s big generator, as well as the solar panels at the orphanage –  the Sisters were so happy to have him there!

Mary mentoring Tino

Working in TL requires adaptability, and our teams are characterised by a fluidity of roles. Team 5 was no different. All the dentists shared all the tasks, from mentoring of Timorese clinicians to accompanying  Ana Paula to do a share of the examinations; Ana Tilman and Nico delivered oral health education either en masse or class-by-class; Kim, Nico, Ana Tilman, Mary, Tino and Leslie were at different times the work horses of the crew; and everyone functioned as steri-nurse and dental assistant.

Kim demonstrating with Leslie assisting

It was a very busy 2 weeks and so the last day spent in Maubara clinic, winding down and taking stock was much-needed. Kim did a vital skill demonstration for our mentees, a few patients were treated, there was a bit of tidying up and the team had important personnel and team meetings, but essentially the day was for closure, and farewelling the Sisters for the year. Later that night the extended team, including translators Bony and Isa, reconvened for a rowdy end-of-trip-end-of-year dinner in Dili. After being kicked out of a cafe at the end of the night, the team lingered in the carpark – it is always difficult to say ‘Goodbye’ to our Timorese family.

Team 5 examined a total of 836 patients, extracted 348 teeth, filled 368 teeth, did 383 preventive treatments and 2 root canal treatments. YAAY team! We will see you all next year!

 

 

 

Busy, no Catastrophes – notes from Team 4

The fabulous Dr Steph Shields met Team 4 at an ungodly hour at Darwin Airport to deliver much-needed supplies. The first wave of the Australian volunteers consisted of team leader, Dr Peter Shakes, and team members, Dr Jeremy Lung, Dr Martin Ramlah and  Ms Malita McCabe.  They were joined for the whole trip by our Timorese team members – dental therapists, Mr Nico Pires and Ms Ana Tilman, Ms Ana Paula Salgado, our translator and admin extraordinaire and Mr Tino Morais, our long time mentee dental therapist, who is in charge of the Gleno Hospital dental clinic.

Team 4
Team 4. minus Hans
Clinic with a view

As usual, the first night consisted of  packing and tidying at our base clinic in Maubara, then dinner with  our partners, the Carmelite Sisters. Martin kept the Sisters entertained (and possibly scandalised) with  Australian sayings, some of which may have not been entirely appropriate for the Servants of God!

The next morning the Team was off for 2 weeks in Atsabe, a 6 hour drive from Maubara. The first 5 days were spent in what is arguably the most scenic dental clinic that the TLDP gets to work in – the verandah of the Priests’ Residence. It is also one of the windiest locations – the Timorese shiver when they talk about Atsabe. However, the view more than makes up for the sporadic electricity and the icy morning baths!

Happy Birthday Nico!

Over the first 5 days, the team took care of the children from the local government and parish schools, as well as members of the general community. This is our second trip to Atsabe and like most places in TL, is desperate for dental care- the community was lining up for treatment before the team had even had breakfast! The week was punctuated by Nico’s 27th Birthday (he had cake for breakfast) and the local market day, where Malita did her civic duty contributing to the local economy.

Tino and Martin

Martin and Jeremy graduated relatively recently – almost 2  years ago – and these young sparks approached the transfer of knowledge and skills with great enthusiasm. Both worked closely with Nico, Tino and Ana Tilman to produce some very pleasing results – a number of the fillings on the front teeth would be at home at any high standard Australian practices and are testimony to the mentoring of the TLDP teams. Good work, guys! Some of these fillings were needed because of a local recent fashion trend of filing or deliberately chipping the front teeth – something we sought to discourage.

Malita giving oral health education

Having a dental hygienist on this team proved to be an excellent advertising tactic. On the third day, Malita got going with her cleaning and from that time on attracted a following of handsome young boys with shiny white teeth and typically TL wide smiles. These young boys recruited friends and family to attend for the remainder of the team’s stay. Great work, Malita!

Day 6 was changeover day and a very tired team had a day of relative rest. Peter and Nico did the 8 hour round trip to Dili to swap dentists. The trip started off a little shakily but at least they got the wrong turn out of the way early in  journey! Jeremy was delivered to Dili and returning veteran, Dr Hans Raets, collected without problems.

Hans’ journey to TL had already been eventful. He had been flagged as a terrorist  in Darwin, attempting to load a bomb (our new autoclave) on the Darwin-Dili flight. Personally, we would choose a less conspicuous individual if we were recruiting for a terrorist organisation – Hans is over 6 ft tall and is very distinctive. Luckily for us, Hans was eventually let on the plane after partial disassembly of ‘the bomb’.

Jeremy and Peter on the tools

The team worked one last day on their verandah before shifting to a new location. The  village of Atara is only 10km by road, but it is a 1 hour drive as the ‘road’ closely resembles a goat track. The team arrived to find market day in full-swing, which necessitated a lot of shuffling of trucks and market stallholders before the team was installed in the open-air meeting area. Three pluses kept the team  happy over the next 3 days – the old chief and his wife kept them well-fed and caffeinated, there was the luxury of electricity so no need to use the generators, and they were allowed to store the equipment onsite, so no need to set up and break down the clinic everyday!

Hans is too tall for the chair

The community had never had a dental service here before, which showed up in the large amounts of advanced dental disease in the adults. The  children, however – screened at the local primary school  by Martin and Ana Paula – had pretty good teeth, which is generally the case in the remote areas of TL – no access to junk food! With the dentists forming mentoring teams with the therapists, Malita manning the assisting and the sterilisation, and Ana Paula whipping them all along, the team worked through the patients with no problems.

On the penultimate morning, the team took their leave of Atsabe and headed back to Maubara for admin and housekeeping; stopping briefly at Gleno Hospital to drop Tino off so he could start his afternoon clinic. Tino is a great asset to the TLDP and demonstrates enormous enthusiasm for high quality, gentle dentistry. We have been mentoring Tino for 7 years now- he works voluntarily with as many teams as possible every year, simply to improve his skills. Nico has been employed and mentored by the TLDP for 3 years. In that time, both their skills have improved out-of-sight. For clinicians with limited resources, they have become excellent diagnosticians and they do some beautiful work. We are humbled by their dedication to their work.

The fabulous Timorese

This trip was exceptional in that everything worked – the team even had a functioning suction unit, unlike last year! And nothing broke down! The team itself was a fabulous blend of ‘old-er’ and younger dentists, a veteran dental hygienist, plus the enthusiastic, uncomplaining and capable  Timorese. Together, they brought to fruition our shared mission to make a difference to the Timorese communities we serve.

This trip the team treated 710 patients, extracted 623 teeth, filled 162 fillings, did 69 preventive treatments and 43 cleans. Well done team 4!

TAG TEAM

It’s only a week after Team 4’s return to Oz – just enough time for then to pass the baton to our final team for this year. Team 5 hits Timor’s shores today and will be bringing with them enough materials to sustain our Maubara crew (and all our mentees) on the ground for the next 6 months – we won’t be sending anyone over until March next year. Fingers crossed we got the numbers right!

Team 5 consists of the TLDP Program Coordinator, Dr Blanche Tsetong, TLDP veteran, Dr Mary Tuituinnik, and two new volunteers, Dr Kim Hartley and Dr Leslie Leong. The team heads to Maubisse for a week and then will be finishing off the work in 5 schools in the Maubara and Loes regions. Have fun team!

 

The Fast and the Furious

It’s a rapid-fire dental service this year! A mere 3 weeks after Team 2’s return, Team 3 has now completed a lightning trip to TL, leaving scores of happier people in their wake. 

The Australian contingent of the team all hail from Darwin – Team Leader, Dr Ashley Freeman, returnee, Dr Stephanie Shields and newcomers, Dr Jordan Kolsky and Dr Evelyne Cheng (a medical doctor). They were joined by our permanent Timorese team, Ana  DJB Tilman, Nico TF Pires and Ana Paula DST Salgado. 

The delightful Team 3 – Ashley, Steph, Evelyne, Jordan, Ana Tilman and Ana Paula – Nico is behind the camera

The team eagerly arrived with 15 boxes of supplies on the Friday morning, but spent the majority of the day cooling their heels in Dili as they waited for the outgoing TLDP Lions team which was late coming in from the districts. The two arms of the TLDP (Rotary and Lions) share the Troopie between them, but rarely meet. Once the handover was complete, the team hightailed it to Maubara to pack – the team was spending one week in the neighbouring island of Atauro.

The Silver Fluoride Arrives

It was at this point the team realised that no Silver Fluoride had made it over from Australia! A disaster! This preventive treatment is a key component in our program and it allows us to save many more teeth than we would without it.  So    the Silver Fluoride needed to be begged and borrowed from somewhere back in Oz, then sent internationally to TL, then picked up and sent to another island – all within 2 days. Was this team stymied? Not this team. They put their cool, problem-solving heads together, liaised with 3 dental surgeries in Darwin, arranged for a pickup and drop off to the airport, convinced Airnorth to bring the gear over with their crew, organised our Timorese friends to collect the material and drop it off to a boat which would then take it to Atauro; it was in the team’s hands for their first clinic on Monday. A BIG THANK YOU to BUPA Dental in Casuarina, Palmerston Dental and Smith Street Dental; to Dr Johnny Chen in Darwin, Airnorth, Isabel Noronha Pereira de Lima Maia in Dili, and Barry Hinton in Atauro for performing this logistical miracle!

No OH & S people here – getting Sisters’ car onto the ferry
We get spoilt when we are at Barry’s Place

Back to Saturday. The team had to arrive in Dili super-early in order to make sure that the 2 vehicles (and all our stuff) got loaded onto the ferry. A previous team had learned that having a ticket did not guarantee getting on the boat. Getting on and off the ferry is extremely stressful – there are people, livestock and vehicles everywhere and the ramps are steep and unstable. We have almost lost a car to the ocean during one of these manoeuvres previously. Apart from a stressful start, the team had an uneventful journey over to Atauro and were soon ensconced in the laidback simplicity of Barry’s Place – their home for the week – where they were well and truly spoilt by Barry and his team. The remainder of the weekend was spent relaxing, setting up, and organising the week ahead.

Steph and Ana Tilman shared a birthday on Sunday – Happy Birthday to them both!!!! What a special place to have a birthday!

Beautiful Atauro

The first three days were spent working in the Vila Maumeta Health Clinic. Atauro has a total population of 11500 people, and approximately 1900 live in the administrative centre of Vila Maumeta. The population is largely Protestant, in contrast to the Catholic-dominated TL mainland.

Atauro has no electrical supply between 2pm and 6pm, so during the bulk of the day, the team ran on a generator – not unusual for our clinics. There are also no petrol stations on Atauro, so thankfully Barry came to the rescue again when they ran out of fuel!

5 clinicians at work

As well as the general community, the team was able to treat some of the local schoolchildren. Steph and Ana Paula screened  all of Grades 1-6, but were less successful with Grades 7-9 as there was overlap with the school feeding program. Nevertheless, even with a public holiday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the independence referendum, the team was extremely  busy, with Jordan, Steph, Ash, Nico and Ana Tilman all treating patients, whilst Ana Paula translated, maintained the records, and assisted the clinicians. Evelyne functioned as sole steri-nurse, dental assistant and medical back-up for the team.

Ana Paula is invaluable in explaining treatment to worried parents.

Most patients required multiple extractions and fillings. Atauro is an island whose population leads a largely subsistence existence. Many of its communities are remote and there is a high level of disease and few resources. Barry told the team that a number of villagers had died over the preceding year as a result of dental infections. Although the Ministry of Health says that they attend this island regularly; in fact, there has been no dental team here since the TLDP visited 2 years ago. 

So when the people of Atauro have an acute dental infection, they have only two choices – to take repeated antibiotics (if they are available) or to travel to Dili where they can make arrangements for extractions. However, many locals are unable to afford even the cost of the ferry to the mainland. It is a sobering thought that this is commonplace across much of TL. 

Jordan eagerly awaits his mid-morning coconut.

The team spent the last 2 days in the village of Beloi, a rough trip across mountainous terrain. Beloi has the largest population on the island – around 2500 people. Here, many of the locals only speak a local dialect, so it was really lucky that Senhor Lucas, the clinical director in Maumeta stayed to support the team throughout their entire trip. He helped with translating, crowd management, distributing pain killers and fresh coconuts for morning tea. Ana Tilman delivered oral health education to the Beloi kids, in true 21st century style – with a smartphone. Again, the team was busy here and they left after dark on their last day.

Ana Tilman gives oral health education with some digital assistance

After breaking down the clinic in the dark, repacking the cars, catching the ferry back to the mainland, driving back to our Maubara base, then unpacking the cars and repacking the stockroom, then discovering a flat tyre on one car and changing the tyre, I am sure that the team was super-relieved to fall into the welcoming arms of the Sisters at the end of their trip.

All our trips are taxing, but due to the restricted days and remote location, this one was particularly intense. The team in total saw 371 patients. They extracted 657 teeth, placed 294 fillings, and carried out 40 preventive treatments. Good job Team 3!

The team back in Dili

 

timorese farm

TEAM 1 ARRIVES THIS SUNDAY

Our first team arrives in TL this Sunday. Dr John Moran, Dr John Whyte, Bella Miller and Rebecca Bushell are headed for a stint in the communities of Railaco and Kasait. As usual, the team will also include the TLDP’s full-time dental therapists, Nico Pires and Ana Tilman, as well as dental assistant and interpreter,  Ana Paula Salgado. Tino Correia, a dental therapist who we have mentored for many years, and who works in Gleno Hospital clinic, also intends to join the team for more training. A big busy team!! Have fun and good luck!

CONVIVIALITY OVER FRUSTRATION

Team 2 returned from TL on the 6thJune after a 10-day whirlwind trip. The team consisted of team leader, Dr John Moran, his steadfast mate, Dr John Whyte, newbie volunteer, Emma Whyte, the TLDP’s dental therapist, Nicolau Tolentino Pires (Nico), and Australian-trained, Timorese dental assistant, Ana Paula dos Santos Tavares Salgado.

This team is well known for its efficiency. They covered a lot of ground; dividing their time between the Railaco, Kasait and Maubara areas. In Railaco, they were hosted by our Jesuit partners, and as usual were kept thoroughly fed, watered and entertained by the ebullient Father Bong, with his team, Fathers Truong, Phong, Siriak and Sagi, plus trainee Jesuit, Ismal. Lively dinner discussions, well-oiled by wine, ranging from attitudes towards eating pets, to a coffee delicacy produced from predigested coffee beans, and libido-limiting fruit, kept the team recharged during their stay in Railaco.

The first 2 days were spent treating patients in the Railaco Parish Clinic Centre, where the team treated patients from the local community. The team was augmented by Ismal and a local man, Victor, who performed the vital task of interpreting – neither Nico, nor Ana Paula, are from Railaco, so they don’t speak the local language of Railaco.  Timor has 2 official languages – Portuguese and Tetum, but there are also scores of local languages, or what the people call ‘mother tongues’. Many people struggle with Portugese, and even Tetum can become sketchy the further out one ventures. In most of the tiny, remote villages, knowledge of the local language is essential. (Pic: Emma Whyte, John Whyte, Fr Bong, Ana Paula, John Moran, Nico)

The team had a single day before equipment issues started rolling in. Day 2 saw the foot pedal of one of our dental units go bust, necessitating a 4 am dash back to Maubara for Nico on Day 3 to get the spare. Luckily for this team, Railaco is one of the closest locations to Maubara. Nico was back 3 ½ hours later, the offending foot pedal fixed, and the team headed off to Railaco Leten, almost 2 hours drive away.

The team worked in the Sacred Heart of Jesus chapel in Railaco Leten, which is a lovely space and has great views; however, electricity is dodgy in Railaco Leten and this played havoc with the electric autoclave that the team had chosen to take with them. This meant that the team spent most of the night sterilising on their return to Railaco, where the electricity is more reliable. (Pic: Our Steri-Room)

Day 4 saw the team heading up the hill to Tocoluli, where they worked in a community hall overlooking Mt Ramelau. At this point they started to run out some of the anaesthetic. Despite being small in height, many Timorese, especially the ones in the remote areas, have large teeth, with massive roots, and need more anaesthetic. It must have been a very tiring day, but at night, the team were rewarded with a feast at the Order of St Paul of Chartres Convent – the sisters are superb cooks and their singing is a real treat. (Pic: John Whyte in his room with a view)

Day 5 was a day of endurance and patience for the team – they had to set up and break down the portable clinic twice. Their clinic in Nasuta was stymmied not only by yet another new public holiday – Children’s Day – but also the Sacred Heart of Jesus Procession. After only a few patients, the team packed up and headed back down the hill and spent the rest of the day in Railaco Parish Clinic Centre.

Days 6 and 7 were spent in Kasait, back on the coast. The two days were productive and busy and were only marred by the suction motor burning out on the first day. Nico, with local, Nani, drove the suction motor and one of our generators to Dili for repair. The suction unit’s motor was replaced with a vacuum cleaner motor overnight and was in action again the following day (albeit with less power)! (Pic: The team about to farewell Kasait)

The final 2 days were spent in Maubara, first at the senior high school, then finishing up at our base clinic. The team experienced their final breakdown – one of the dental carts turned up its toes – but reached the finish line with their good humour unscathed! They spent some time at the Maubara Orphanage, where they were treated to a coffee, biscuits and a little concert. A fabulous way to end a visit!

Overall the team did 849 treatments, including 266 fillings, 229 extractions, and 132 preventive treatments. The two Johns are also great teachers and they spent a large amount of time with Nico, honing his restorative skills. Despite the setbacks, the entire team had a fantastic time and enjoyed working and living together immensely. Go Team 2!

 

 

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.

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)

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!

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)