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!
At this point in time we would like to thank all our generous donors of cold hard cash. Maintaining a dental program is not a cheap operation. While we try and make our funds stretch as far as possible by utilising volunteers – who all pay their own way – as the muscle of the program, and by obtaining generous donations of dental materials, we aim to reduce the welfare component of our program in order to make the program more sustainable.
That is why we employ a number of local Timorese people. We employ a full-time Timorese dental therapist, Nicolau Pires, who runs the program while the teams are not in Timor Leste. We employ Bonifacio Cardoso on a casual basis, to handle our registrations and liaise with some of the outlying communities; and when the teams are in-country, we also employ a slew of dental assistants, translators and sometimes, drivers. Now, we are funding a Timorese sister, Sr Delfina, to attend university in Indonesia so that she can become a dentist. It’s a 5 year course and a massive financial commitment for the TLDP. She starts in September this year and the cost of the first year’s tuition is USD 29 000. It’s a lot of money! It is our hope that once she graduates and gets a bit of experience, she will then become the backbone of our program.
So apart from helping us to purchase and maintain our dental gear in our clinics, and to maintain our car and the Sisters’ car which the teams borrow, and helping to support three other Timorese government clinics, your precious donations are helping us to provide employment, training and experience for young Timorese people. Thank you for investing in their futures.
Thank you, in particular, to the International College of Dentists, which has pledged $4000 annually for Sr Delfina’s education. Thank you to the Rotary Club of Bendigo who recently gave us $2000 to buy local anaesthetic for all the clinicians we support, as well as some instruments that were on Dr Inda’s Wishlist. Thank you to the Melbourne Dental Wellbeing clinic, who threw a film night and donated $1405 to the program, just for the hell of it. Thank you to everyone who has given us even a small donation – every little bit counts!
As I write this, our next team is preparing to head off to TL this weekend. Team 2 consists of Dr John Moran, Dr John Whyte and Emma Whyte , as well as Nico Pires and Ana Paula do Santos Tavares Salgado. They will be living it up in Railaco! Good luck team!
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.
(Pic: The view out to Atauro from the Tibar-Railaco Road)
The WA (Western Australia) contingent which comprises TLDP’s second team for 2016 sets off this Saturday. This team consists of team leader, Dr John Moran, his trusty sidekick, Dr John Whyte, and newcomer, Bella Miller. Flying to Dili via Bali, they arrive Sunday afternoon, ready to tackle the onslaught of patients in Railaco, where they will be spending the majority of their time this trip. But never fear, there will be no dull boys and girls on their return home – the hospitality of Father Bong and his crew in Railaco is second-to-none – there will be lots of fun to be had! Hopefully, the team will also get to work with Tino, who is currently in Gleno. Fingers crossed! Good luck Team 2! Safe travels!
The second team to Timor for 2015 returned home 2 weeks ago after another successful trip delivering dental care to the people of Liquiça, Bazatete and Maubara subdistricts. The team consisted of newcomers, Dr John Whyte and dental assistant, Laura Laycock, veteran Team Leader Dr John Moran and his talented daughter, Sam Moran. Dili-based dental assistant extraordinaire, Sally Stephens – helping out for the second time this year – joined the team part-way through their trip. The team was beset by challenges almost from the moment they set foot on TL soil. Despite carrying a letter from Sr Filomena, they were unable to convince airport customs officials that the dental materials in their luggage were not for commercial use. The team was detained at the airport for 3 hours until The Boss (Sr Filomena) was able to verbally verify their story. In the meantime, the Timorese representative charged with meeting the team with Troopie 2 had made an independent assessment that the team had missed the plane and so had returned home, leaving them stranded. After many hours and several emails and phone calls, along with a couple of wrong turns, the Team managed to reach Maubara late at night.
The team worked in Bazatete for the first 3 days. Sr Filomena had planned for the team to stay in Bazatete but the accommodation proved to be a little inadequate – with only 2 beds for 5 people and no provision for mozzie nets to keep the team safe from the denizens of the night, the team made the sensible decision to drive back and forth from the village daily. This also had an impact on the clinical supervision of Aida, who was reluctant to make several return trips and so decided to stay in Liquiça to work during this time. Nevertheless, the team was able to treat well over 100 patients in their first 3 days.
Clinical time was further disrupted by a day for the religious observance of Corpus Christi, and an additional public holiday for the funeral of the Minister for Education. I am pretty sure that the team made good use of that time as they headed in to the bright lights of Dili for those 2 days.
Luckily, there were almost no equipment issues for this team – there was the mysterious absence of a particular nut and screw in one of the portable dental chairs, which are essential to adjust the chair’s height. The team had to strap the chair to keep it together – in an upright position – and so it was useful (barely) for extractions only. The screw and nut went missing in the two weeks between Team 1’s departure and Team 2’s arrival! Also the lid of the portable autoclave had been mistakenly ‘taken home’ to ‘repair’ by one of the members of Team 1, so Team 2 was reduced to using the electric, slower, autoclave only. Working in TL just would not be the same without these little equipment issues which encourages ingenuity, adaptability and a good working sense of humour.
The team spent the last 4 days in the Maubara and Liquiça Primary Schools and in the clinic in Maubara, days which I believe were largely uneventful. Although the day’s records from Maubara Primary are missing, the preliminary stats from the trip record that over the rest of the trip the team examined 259 patients, carried out 192 extractions, 129 fillings and 200 preventative treatments. Well done team!
Many thanks to our very generous donors who provide us with the funds to keep this program moving – we bought $1500 worth of local anaesthetic with your help this trip! Many, many thanks especially to our donors of equipment and materials – namely Henry Schein Halas, which donated a stack of consumables this trip, and have supported us so generously over the year, John Moran, who raided his own stores for local anaesthetic and other consumables, SDI, which keeps us stocked in Silver Fluoride/Potassium Iodide (RIVA STAR), DMS, which provided the team with triplex tips, and Blanche’s anonymous donor, who donated a number of slow speed handpieces, mirrors and probes.
Great work from a brilliant team!