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!
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!
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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!
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!”
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.
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!
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 week 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. 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.
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.
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 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. The next day the projector refused to work for 2 hours, but no one showed up until 10.30, so that was ok! 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. 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.
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)Unfortunately, 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)
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. So 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. 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)
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 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.