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!
Super-slick operators Team 1 have returned home after a hugely successful trip. As previously mentioned, the team consisted of Dr Peter Shakes, returning for the second time; equipment guru, Keith Mentiplay, on his 4th trip to TL; newcomers Patrick Fitzgerald and Sally Stephens, and their team leader, the ever-cool Dr David Sheen.
This team had the additional responsibility of sifting through the equipment and materials that we sent over earlier this year, determining which equipment was to stay in Railaco and transporting the rest to Maubara. After accomplishing this task on Day 1, the team spent week 1 in the Maubara and Loes districts with our indefatigable boss, Sr Filomena. They treated patients in the villages of Fau Lara, Trans and Guiço, as well as seeing the kids from Maubara Orphanage at the fixed clinic.
As usual, the team was confronted by equipment issues – a flat battery in T2, misbehaving generators and a troublesome compressor. Luckily for this team, they had a not-so-secret weapon – Keith – who spent all hours day and night fixing and upgrading our equipment, as well as installing the new chair and compressor in Railaco and fixing equipment issues in our Lions partner’s Klinik Pas. He did a lot of travelling – Keith had a hectic 6 days before leaving TL at the end of Week 1. He probably needed a holiday! Thanks Keith!
The following week, Sr Filomena handed the team over to the Jesuit crew in the Railaco. Lucky Team 1 had the opportunity to enjoy the unparalleled hospitality of the enthusiastic Fathers Bong, Bert and Phuong, Sr Rita, and the company of a chorus of others, including the high school principal, Michael, and a visiting Aussie nurse, Jenny. The team treated patients in Railaco Leten, Railaco vila, Cocoa vila and Gleno. This area has beautiful scenery and the temperate weather is a welcome relief from the sweltering coast. They were fortunate to have the help of friendly English-speaking locals, Victor and Noberto, who provided assistance with communication.
To the team’s disappointment, both Aida and Tino – the Timorese dental therapists whom we mentor – both had to attend a Dept of Health inservice for almost the entire time the team was in TL. Fortuitously, Tino (who is stationed at Ermera) returned to base on the team’s penultimate day and everyone had the opportunity to work together. We first met Tino in Liquiça and is great to hear that he is still as dedicated and enthusiastic in helping his community as ever.
According to reports, this team never lacked for enthusiasm or the will to do some hard graft. Patrick, a builder by trade, proved he was a truly multi-talented individual, becoming an excellent dental assistant, sterilisation expert and roadie overnight, while entertaining the team with his Irish humour. Sally proved to be one of those dental assistants that we dentists refer to as Supernurses – able to handle anything and everything with good humour and ease. She kindly made her car available for the team’s use during the trip. Thanks Sally! Also,she is so enthusiastic that she has already volunteered to work with the next couple of teams as well as to do their inventories and sort out the clinic once they depart. We may have to decline or be spoilt forever. Peter Shakes (the quiet achiever and smooth operator, who gets the job done) and Sally were the ‘Dream team’, doing the bulk of the clinical work.
All up, the team saw over 356 patients. They extracted 305 teeth, and despite the breakdown of our remaining slow speed handpieces, restored 127 teeth and carried out 47 preventative treatments. Thanks to David, Peter, Sally, Keith and Patrick for all your hard work and adaptability. Your humble and helpful natures contribute to the building of peace and trust in TL. Thanks also to Sr Filomena, Father Bong, Tino and all the other Jesuits and Carmelites whose dedication and patience continues to make this program possible. Lastly, thankyou to Henry Schein Halas for continuing to support our program with much needed materials and equipment, which allows us to continue to help the East Timorese people.
This Sunday our first team for 2015 heads to Timor Leste’s sunny shores. The team, led by Dr David Sheen, has the important tasks of touching base with our network in TL, as well as the installation of the dental chair in Railaco, on top of the usual tasks of treating the East Timorese and mentoring Timorese Dental Therapists that are our everyday challenges. David is joined by new volunteer, Patrick Fitzgerald, and by Keith Mentiplay and Dr Peter Shakes. We are also very lucky to have Sally Stephens join the team for the first time. She is an Aussie dental nurse who currently resides in Dili.
We wish them a safe and productive trip and hope that their interactions with everyday East Timorese continues to build peace, understanding and resilience within this still very young nation.
As 2014 draws to a close, one naturally reflects upon the year which has passed so rapidly. It has been an exceedingly busy and exciting year for all of us in the Timor Leste Dental Program. We have welcomed a whole bunch of new volunteers and said our sad goodbyes to those who have called it a day. It has been a year of outrageously intense fundraising and thanks to all our supporters, we managed to not only achieve our goal of buying a new Troopie – T2 – but we have been able to raise money that will carry us forward for the next few years. Your generosity and support has been overwhelming and we are grateful not only for your financial support, but also for your ideas and advice.
As this goes to press, we are preparing to transport a second hand dental chair (donated by Dr David Sheen) to our new partners, the Jesuit Mission in Railaco. This chair will be useful when our teams are in Railaco and we are hoping it will also be useful for Father Bong, a medical GP, for procedural work. With the chair goes a second portable suction unit, donated by Dr Gordon Howe of Manly, and a portable dental unit as well. We are also hoping to sneak in 119 boxes of gloves with the ‘package’ so the teams don’t have to lug around so much luggage next year. Fingers crossed! The ‘package’ will be sent to Melbourne by courier, to be placed on the next shipping container to Dili.
We have had an unprecedented number of volunteers putting up their hand for 2015, and I am happy to report that our increased profile has allowed us to send 5 teams in 2015 – we may even have a 6th! Our volunteer year kicks off in late April with Team 1 being lead by David Sheen, who will be accompanied by the super enthusiastic Peter Shakes and equipment guru Keith Mentiplay. Team 2, lead by John Moran and his talented daughter, Sam, will head out in early June. Newcomers, Dr Mary Tiutuinnik and Beth Bowen will join Team 3 in late July, with Blanche Tsetong and jack-of-all-trades Wayne Pearson. Team 4, lead by super chilled David Digges, with dental legend, Geoff Knight, will leave late August. Team 5, consisting of Andy Moran (Snake), Gordon Saggers (Cowboy) and Alan Christie (Agatha) will head to TL in mid- September and will be the first of our teams to work in Railaco only. For advice on those nicknames – I am reliably told it is secret Railaco business – apply to Father Bong.
Thank you to all of our volunteers, our long-suffering families, our friends and supporters for everything you have given to the program this year. We wish you all a safe, very happy Christmas and a super new year! See you all in 2015!