Team 4 will farewell Australian shores next Saturday. Team Leader, Dr Peter Shakes will be joined by Dr Ashley Freeman and Dr Andrew Frame in the first week, who will then be replaced by the redoubtable Dr Mary Tuituinnik in Week 2. The Timorese team members include Nico Pires, TLDP’s hard-working dental therapist and new Dad, and Ana Paula Dos Santos Tavares Salgado, the team’s translator and dental assistant. Team 4 has already been plagued by misdirected supplies, team members dropping out, and confusion with scheduling;. Hopefully, all the wrinkles have been ironed out now and this team will have some smooth sailing once they get to TL. They are heading to Atsabe and Maubara. Good luck and have fun Team!
Team 1 arrived home a week ago, tired – and some of us sick – but triumphant. This trip was difficult to organise and challenging on the ground due to the conglomeration of different organisations during the first week- The Timor Leste Dental Program had been joined by Solar Smiles Dental Charity (SSDC), the Bendigo Maubisse Friendship Committee (BMFC), and the Maubisse Referral Hospital (MRH). We all had different ideas and agendas for this first week, but we shared a common goal – to improve the dental health of Maubisse Subdistrict; this made us a highly effective team.
Week one saw us in Maubisse Subdistrict. The TLDP consisted of overall team leader, Dr Blanche Tsetong, the TLDP’s Timorese dental therapist, Mr Nico Tolentino Faria, and translator (as well as sterilisation nurse and dental assistant), Miss Isabel Noronha Pereira de Lima Maia. SSDC was represented by founder, dental recruiter and former dental assistant, Mrs Kim Groizard. Standing with a foot in both camps was Dr Phil Hill, who was volunteering for the TLDP, but was also a member of the SSDC. Dr George Waters represented the BMFC and the MRH brought into the mix Dr Inda Zulmira Dias, dental therapists, Mr Armando Da Costa Martins and Mr Ricardo Mendonça, and assistants, Carlotta and Imelda.
The TLDP and MRC spent the first couple of days in Turiscai treating the community and the school. Turiscai is and isolated village 1 1/2 hours from Maubisse town along the type rough, dirt ridge track that TL is famous for. The scenery is spectacular. We were very busy – the community rarely gets dental services – but our plans for a community oral health workshop were stymied by the campaigning for the upcoming election. (Pic: Phil, Nico & Ota)
The next 3 days the TLDP and MRC visited Rimori School, in a village fringed by sharp mountains, Samoro School, in a valley accessed by a skinny dirt track running beneath towering Madre de Cacao trees and coffee bushes, and the Carmelite Sisters’ Health Clinic back in Maubisse town. Kim Groizard lent a hand at both Rimori and Samoro Schools , enabling her to see a functional outreach clinic in TL in action. As we all know, working in TL has its unique challenges and peculiarities! (Pic: Phil, Isa & Kim)
Week 1 was peppered with meetings, but the most crucial was that with the Chiefs of all the Sucos (akin to shires) in the Maubisse Subdistrict. Phil, Nico and the rest of the gang remained slogging at Samoro, while Blanche, Kim and Inda attended this meeting with George in tow (SSDC will function under the BMFC umbrella). At what Kim described as a “horse auction”, the chiefs sought to get more services for their Sucos. In the end, we came out with a working plan of cooperation between the Chiefs, the Carmelite Sisters, the MRH, the TLDP and the SSDC. Success! (Pic: The view from Rimori)
The weekend, as always, brought the changeover and we said goodbye to the cool hills of Maubisse, the Maubisse crew, and to Kim and George. We were now a solely TLDP team. Blanche, Phil, Nico and Isabel happily welcomed Dr Mary Tuituinnik; less welcome was the oppressive heat and humidity of the coast .
Week 2 had a different flavour to it – the climate introduces an additional layer of difficulty to our job. Also, by that time, both Nico and Blanche were ill; nevertheless, the team carried on – they spent 2 days in the slightly cooler climes of Vatuvou School, in the foothills behind Maubara, and a day in each of the airless, dusty, piping hot schools of Ediri and Vatunau, with one fan, a tin roof and a generator. What made the week flow easily was Phil’s can-do, ever-optimistic attitude, Mary’s gentle humour, Isa’s graceful, caring nature, Nico’s dogged work ethic, and the non-stop gentle pitter patter of Phil and Mary’s chatter – those two can talk underwater!
One of the days we spent assessing and mentoring a dental therapist, Savio, who the SSDC hopes to employ. Like most of the dental therapists we come across in TL, his skills are woefully lacking; however, with the right attitude towards learning, and with lots of support, we know that he could become an excellent clinician. Many of the dental therapists we mentor are now excellent clinicians. (Pic: Savio, Isa & Mary)
Week 2 also had its share of meetings as the TLDP worked with Phil (with his SSDC hat on) to establish more connections in TL. There were many trips back and forth on the Dili Road – meetings with Judite and Mario from the Rotary Liaison in Dili, the Rotary Club Lafaek in Dili, and the Rotary Club Dili at the Klibur Domin Tuberculosis Clinic in Tibar, with a fortuitous meeting with another new dental NGO in Tibar, which works within Kilbur Domin, under the Ryder-Cheshire banner. Developing links is important, especially in this setting, as it allows us to support each other and to share resources – TL is an impossible place to work in solo.
Blanche had meetings with Sr Inacia about the Sister Delfina who the TLDP hopes to support in her dental studies in Indonesia. The TLDP believes that local ownership is the only way for a program to be sustainable. Although Nico is hardworking and committed, he is a “mere” dental therapist and so lacks the clout that being a dentist would give him. He also has family ties that may force him to leave the program one day. Hence – in supporting Sister Delfina to become a dentist we hope to safeguard the program for the future. However, the TLDP was originally led to believe that the degree would cost approx USD 9000 for the first year of study. Instead, it is closer to USD 29000 – a big difference! Nevertheless, we are determined to support her – I see some fundraising in our future!
Team 1 luckily had few equipment issues – 3 broken triplexes, a non-functioning generator, malfunctioning head torches, a dental unit water leak, a total loss of water supply in the accommodation in Maubisse and, at the end, a broken air-conditioning fan belt in the SIsters’ car. Most they managed to fix during the 2 weeks! (Pic: Isabel, Blanche & an iPhone)
Team 1 saw a total of 415 patients, extracted 363 teeth, restored 245 teeth and carried out 39 treatments. With the TLDPs support, the MHR and Nico had screened, given oral health education and carried out a selected treatment to 1439 children prior to the Team’s arrival. A fine example of what cooperation can accomplish!
Thank you to the entire team – you make this program. Thank you to Bony Cardoso Martins, who continues to help us with our Timorese dental registration, which is an exercise in tedium. Thank you especially to Henry Schein Halas, who continues to support our program with stacks of consumables and equipment team after team, year after year. Your generous donations allow us to give more to the Timorese people. Thank you also to SDI who has also helped us with donated materials over several years. Thank you to our partners, the Carmelite Sisters who, with their grace and good company, make it a joy to work in TL. (Pic: Phil, Sr Joaninha, Blanche, Sr Isabel, Mary)
A new volunteering year begins on Saturday 21, with something new. Team 1 is taking along some friends. At least for the first week, the Timor Leste Dental Program team will be joined by representatives from the Bendigo Maubisse Friendship Association (BMFA) and Solar Smiles (SS), who hope to assist with improving the dental services in Maubisse. Retired anaesthetist, Dr George Waters, from the BMFA, and the founder of SS, Mrs Kim Groizard, will be journeying for the 2nd and 1st time respectively to TL – a recon trip for the both. Dr Phil Hill, who volunteered with the TLDP last year, has the unusual distinction of being a member of all 3 NGOs and the TLDP will be working him hard! The last two Australian members of this merry band are team leader, Dr Blanche Tsetong, and returnee, Dr Mary Tiutiunnik. They will be joined in TL by dental therapist, Mr Nico Pires and translator, Miss Isabel Noronha Pereira De Lima Maia (Isa).
Week 1 will be spent in Maubisse subdistrict; clinical work in the community and the schools will be intermixed with meetings with heads of villages, the main hospital, and health posts, as well as meetings with other NGOs.
Once Kim and George return home, the TLDP will spend a more typical TLDP 2nd week of hard slog in the Maubara/Liquiça/Loes subdistricts. Full steam ahead!
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.
Team 1 arrived home 1 week ago. Since then the TLDP has been busily prepping for the upcoming trip of Team 2, which leaves in 2 weeks. Hold onto your seats; Team 1’s report is coming forthwith!!!