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!
Our volunteering year is now ended with Team 5 returning a couple of weeks ago from TL. It has been a very busy year, and so we are quite happy to be able to draw a quick breath or two before we start to prepare for the year ahead. (Pic: Isa, Nico, Tino, Bony, David and Ana Paula)
Team 5 was led by Dr David Sheen, one of this program’s founders, and an excellent dentist, teacher and mentor. David has decided that this will be his last clinical trip, so we imagine that this trip tasted bittersweet. David will be sorely missed. He is a gracious, good-humoured and considerate person and a skilled team leader. However, there is no rest for the wicked – David will continue to be involved in the TLDP management committee, and he has taken on the responsibility for getting a Timorese person into and through a dental degree! We haven’t seen the last of him yet!
The remainder of the Australian contingent of Team 5 consisted of returnee, Dr Geoff Knight (Week 1), and newcomers, John Darby (Week 1 and2) and Gaye Dumont (Week 2).
We are proud to say that the Timorese portion of Team 5 was considerably larger than the Australian part, something that is now typical of all our teams, and an ideal that we have been steadily working towards over the past 15 years. We believe that a program is only sustainable if it has local ownership and it can only be locally-owned if there is a preponderance of local participation. The timorese contingent consisted of TLDP dental therapist, Nicolau Tolentino Faria Pires (Nico), TLDP dental assistant and translator, Ana Paula Dos Santos Tavares Salgado, Ministry of Health (MoH) dental therapist, Diamantino Correia Morais (Tino), translator, Bonifacio Cardoso Martins (Bony), translator and organiser, Isabel Noronha Pereira De Lima Maia (Isa), MoH dentist, Dr Inda Zulmira Dias, MoH dental therapists, Armando Da Costa Martins and Ricardo Mendonça, and Carmelite sister, Sr Delfina Soares. With the exception of Sr Delfina, all the Timorese in this team have worked with the TLDP for many years.
The lucky team spent the first week in Oecusse, an East Timorese enclave within West Timor, Indonesia. They were lucky not only because Oecusse is a beautiful area with coral reefs off the beach, but also because they got to spend time with our beloved Sr Filomena da Costa, our old Timorese program coordinator who was uprooted from Maubara to take over the new Oecusse Carmelite community. (Pic: Sr Carmelita, Sr Filomena and Ana Paula)
This team journeyed by ferry, a quite expensive and time-consuming exercise involving putting the 2 packed vehicles on the ferry in the morning, waiting around Dili all day, then boarding at 5pm, before finally arriving at 5am the next morning. Luckily, the team scored the only 2 cabins onboard and were able to sleep! Thanks to Isa for booking the tickets in advance! (Pic: Dedicated Nico and Tino)
The team worked for 3 ½ days within the Carmelite Health Centre, São Domico Clinic, mostly treating the children from the neighbouring high school and the local community. Sr Filomena, Bony and Nico did all the oral health education and screening of the school kids. After that, the team broke up into two teams, each comprising a Timorese clinician with a mentor; Geoff teamed with Tino and Ana Paula to do all the fillings and preventive treatments, while David and Nico did all the extractions. John Darby, a dental prosthetist in Oz, became the team’s super-efficient sterilising nurse and infection control manager. It was a very busy few days! It was a real treat for the team to be able to spend time with Sr Filomena, who is also one of the founders of our program and a delightful lady with a loving and ebullient nature. (Pic: Geoff, Sr Carmelita and Tino)
Another 12-hour boat ride and the team returned to Dili on the Saturday for restocking and team changeover. The team farewelled Tino, Bony and Geoff and welcomed Gaye and Sr Delfina into the fold. Sr Delfina is keen to study dentistry and the TLDP has agreed to support her studies if she gets into a training program. In a meeting with the Carmelite head honchos on the weekend, David suggested that Sr Delfina gain some work experience, so she also joined Team 5 for round 2! Off to the hills of Maubisse! (Pic: John and Gaye atop the Christo Rei)
The trip to Maubisse takes 4-5 hours from Dili. The team was scheduled to work in one of its more remote regions, Manetu, for the next couple of days. The team arrived in the early afternoon in Maubisse town and collected Dr Inda, so they decided to push onto the Manetu-Lebululi Health Centre to set up for the next day. Unfortunately, they travelled via a suggested ‘short cut’, which turned out to be an extremely bad road, and when they finally arrived, the health centre was locked up with no one around, leaving the team to do a u-turn and head back to Maubisse. At least the return trip was on the longer, but much better, road and so the return journey only took 1 ½ hours! (Pic: Gaye and the Maubara sisters)
Manetu is a very poor area, which suffers from severe water shortages when the rain doesn’t come on time. As a result, the villagers have difficulties with personal and home hygiene, and the team saw many people with scabies and badly infected mouths. This is the first time the TLDP has travelled to this village (this was an agreement drawn up in April this year in a meeting with the local chiefs) and the first time this village has had any dental care at all, so it was unsurprising that most of the treatment was extractions. Dr Inda manned 2 extraction chairs all by herself, and David mentored Nico doing restorations.
The last couple of days were spent in the Horaiki High School, which had already been screened and given oral health education by the Maubisse Hospital team (Dr Inda, Armando and Ricardo). Team 5 was assisting the hospital team to follow up with treatment. David and Inda mentored the two Maubisse dental therapists, Armando and Ricardo, while Nico gave additional toothbrushing instruction in the classrooms. In both locations, Gaye, John and Ana Paula kept the team going. Support staff are essential for maintaining good infection control in TL! (Pic: Dr Inda and Ana Paula doing the admin)
Team 5 had brought over our new 34kg suction unit. It worked brilliantly, which meant happy clinicians and happy patients. Lucky for them, there were no equipment breakdowns. NONE! That must be a record! The team also got to spend time with 3 different sets of Carmelites – Sr Filomena, Sr Carmelita and Co. in Oecusse, Sr Joaninha, Sr Lindalva and Co. in Maubara, and Sr Domingas, Sr Rosa, Sr Eva, Sr Veronica and Sr Zeza in Maubisse. That’s a lot of cheeriness and good food right there! (Pic: the Maubisse Sisters)Overall the team saw 443 patients, carried out 318 check-ups, took out 460 teeth, placed 218 fillings and did 42 preventive treatments. Well done Team 5!
Thank you to everyone who continues to support our program! From our donors, to our team members in Darwin who collect supplies and bring them to the airport for the teams, to our biggest materials donors – Henry Schein Halas and SDI – and the Rotary Liaison Team in Dili who do so much running around for us, we are in your debt. Thank you for your generosity. We could not do this without you.
It’s coming to the end of our volunteering year. Phew! Team 4 arrived back safely 2 weeks ago, but we have been super-busy trying to address some of their problems, as well as sort out some tricky logistics for Team 5; so we have yet to update our friends and supporters on what Team 4 got up to! Sorry for the delay – the team leader’s report was just posted last night – we will update you as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, our last team for the year, headed by Dr David Sheen, arrives in TL tomorrow. Accompanying David, is long-time volunteer, Dr Geoff Knight, and Sydney prosthetist, Dr John Darby. Team 5 is working in the Oecusse and Maubisse areas. Oecusse is an East Timorese enclave within West Timor (Indonesia). It is Timor Leste’s East Berlin – difficult to get to, significantly poorer, and with less services than the rest of TL. With equipment and vehicles, one gets there via road or via sea. The road option takes a several hours visit to the Indonesian embassy, a whole day drive through 60km of West Timor, stopping at multiple military checkpoints, and multiple ‘extra’ payments. It was a total pain the last time we chose the road. So, this time, the team is trying to get their by boat; however, the last time a team took the sea-option, our vehicle almost went for a swim. So…Good Luck Team 5!
This Monday marks the arrival of our third team in TL this year. The team comprises team leader, Dr Wayne Pearson, boomerang volunteers – Dr Karen Sloan and the hardcore supernurse, Mrs Sally Stephens; as well as new blood, Dr Marius Mocke and Ms Abbey Notley; the eastern states of Australia are well-represented here – Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland! Along with Nico, it’s a BIG team! They will be spending their outreach week in the offshore island of Atauro – and braving the big boat – the ‘Nakroma’ – which we have previously used to get to/from Oecusse. The team will be taking 2 vehicles over to Atauro, and the Nakroma is the only boat big enough to carry them. We are a little apprehensive – the last time we put a car onto THAT boat, it nearly fell into the sea! Have fun Team 3! Hope you have red skies at night…..
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)