Tag Archives: Sally Stephens

That which does not kill us…..

Team 3 has returned from a difficult trip to Timor Leste this month. The team leader, Dr Wayne Pearson, says that he found it difficult to write a positive report; hence, the tardiness of this update. In addition to Wayne, the Australian contingent of Team 3 consisted of Dr Karen Sloan, Sally Stephens and newbies, Dr Marius Mocke and Abbey Notley. The Timorese component of the team consisted of Nico Pires (our in-residence dental therapist, Bony Cardoso Martins (friend, translator, fixer) and the redoubtable Sr Filomena.

The team ran into their first problems with the airline, Airnorth before even leaving Australian soil. Airnorth’s system refused to recognise the TLDP’s current NGO status and so there were issues with the materials and equipment heading over. The team eventually sorted that out – money will fix almost anything. They arrived in Dili and were met by Judite and Mario, the Rotary Liaison team who handles much of the minutiae for many of the Rotary programs in TL. They liaise with customs to ensure that our dental gear gets through, pay bills for us, and deliver our car to the airport for us, which they keep safe when we were not in town. They are indispensable.

The team then met with Bony, who advised them of the new registration required for foreign dentists volunteering in TL. As mentioned in the previous report, this involved a great deal of documentation – two statutory declarations in Tetum and Portuguese, a copy of the passport, two passport photos, a copy of the dental registration, a copy of the degree certificate, a curriculum vitae in Tetum and, of course, a fee of USD 25. This was to be presented in person to the Ministry of Health and then there would be a wait of two weeks for it to be processed, after which the dentist could carry out their volunteer duties. Logistical difficulties were immediately apparent to the team – our teams are only in TL for two weeks! Having arrived earlier in the week, Sally had already bought the team’s general supplies and they finally got to Maubara in time for dinner with Sr Filomena.IMG_3204

(Pic: TL from afar – seemingly peaceful and pristine)
The next day, instead of starting work, the whole team, plus Sr Filomena and Bony, trooped back to Dili for an interview with the Ministry of Health (MoH). As the team were already in TL and had their AHPRHA registration, Dr Jaõa Manuel, who is in charge of professional registration, gave the team a once-off permission to work in TL. However, the following teams would have to comply with the new rules. As a concession to our short visits, he said that documents could be sent over in advance, but Wayne pointed out that this would be difficult when there is no postal service to TL; in addition, having to translate the documents into 2 different languages might prove to be a big deterrent to volunteers. Dr Manuel agreed, but this was the will of the political arm of the MoH, so it must be complied with. It was decided that the documents would be sent over to Bony by Blanche via email; Bony would do the necessary translations and then deliver the documents to the MoH. The team seemed to have arrived at a workable solution that the MoH was happy with. Disaster averted, the team had a well-earned lunch at Black Rock in Cameo Beach, Liquiça.

[Since then, the Ministry of Health has changed its mind. It wants originals of the CV, in a particular format, and originals of the statutory declarations, not scans. It has now added that it wants a criminal check as well. The TLDP is still trying to work out how we are going to do this in advance of our teams’ arrivals] (Pic: A fuzzy of most of the team: From Left bottom, Bony, Abbey, Sally, Karen and Marius)crew esplanada

The remainder of the week was taken up by a clinic in Guiço, and a couple of days in Klinik Maubara. Karen, Marius and Abbey spent a lot of time with Nico, honing his diagnostic skills; this is of prime importance, as most of the time he has no one else to seek advice. Sally spent a great deal of time sorting out the stores – the MoH has also developed stricter protocols on materials. On top of his clinical tasks, Wayne attended to maintenance, reconstructing the suction unit with the reconditioned motor which Blanche dismantled earlier this year. Wayne and Sr Filomena were summoned to the MoH again, this time to meet with the official who’s jurisdiction includes Atauro. This official told Wayne that he needed to provide her with an official letter so she could inform the people that they were coming. Despite assurance that, in fact, our visit had been planned a year ago with the local Atauro health authority, that Sr Filomena had been in close communication with the Director of the Hospital in Atauro, and that the people already knew the team was coming, a letter was demanded by close of business the next day. This necessitated a return to Maubara, where Sr Filomena produced a very official letter, with lots of stamps and signatures, and a quick return to Dili by motorcycle by Nico by 1pm on Friday.

The week was rounded off by dinner at the orphanage where, like so many of us before, the team was charmed and entertained by the Sisters’ young charges. All of us are no stranger to the upwelling of maternal feelings during these visits, but apparently, Abbey was particularly affected by the experience.IMG_3003

(Pic: The Nakroma – unloading at the Atauro end)

Saturday saw the team off to Atauro. In true Timorese fashion, boarding the vessel was colourful chaos. Although passenger tickets are available the day before, vehicle tickets are only purchasable on the day of departure – and even with a ticket, there is no guarantee of getting on board. The team had to hustle to fit both vehicles with all the gear onto the boat – Sister’s car was the second last car on! At least one other vehicle was turned away. The trip over was otherwise uneventful and the team arrived, unscathed, at Barry’s Place which, as always, was simultaneously a hive of activity and an oasis of peace. This time they were hosting a TEDX talk in the dining area! After meeting the local administrator, Mr Lucas, and hammering out a few details, the team was then free to soak off the frustrations of the previous week over the remainder of the weekend.IMG_3082

The team set up in the Vila hospital for the first 3 days and they were kept busy as usual. They had few problems with the equipment – only a dicky chair with a threaded screw, which they jury-rigged with a  strap. They even had lights and a fan from Day 2 after paying for some fuel for the hospital generator on Day 1. The final two days they went up the hill to Biquelli for 2 days. Here there was a lot more work, as these people have never had a dental service. They were ably assisted by Mr Lucas and a young German volunteer, Fransiska, who both helped with translation and reassuring patients. Timor is amazing in that way – one gets random help from everywhere.Franciska and Mr Lucas

In total, the team  treated 213 patients, extracting 371 teeth, placing 162 fillings, cleaned 21 people’s teeth and placed 17 fissure sealants. They were disappointed that their trip was not more productive. However, judging their trip by figures undervalues the peace building and diplomatic work that they carried out, which cannot be measured by numbers. In meeting with the MoH, working with Sr Filomena, Bony and Nico, and continuing Nico’s training, the team’s efforts were not only valuable, but vital for the continued growth and evolution of the program. On a personal level, dealing with difficult situations and difficult people inevitably delivers insight into oneself and encourages personal growth. As far as the TLDP is concerned this trip was not only a success, but a big win for all involved. Well done Team 3!! (Pic: Mr Lucas and Fransiska)

THANKYOU. An especially BIG thank you to Bony for his continued trips to above and beyond for this program. We would be a dead duck in the water if not for him. Thank you to Nico for his excellent work ethic and his willingness to learn from us and to take on the responsibility of the clinic. Thank you to Karen and Sal for the hard slog in the storeroom and to Karen for taking Nico under her wing. Thank you to Marius and Abbey for throwing your effort into the team – it’s a hard place to work. Thank you to Barry for his organisational skills and support for our teams in Atauro. Last, but not least, thank you to Henry Schein Halas for continuing to support out work with much needed materials. We appreciate it. No pics at the moment, folks – its slow going!

Advertisements

GO TEAM 3!

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…..

The extraordinary nature of Serendipity

P1010738
A late nani tasi

Team 3 returned to Australia last week following a productive fortnight. This was team leader Blanche Tsetong’s tenth trip to TL, so for her, this trip had a celebratory glow from the outset!

P1010766
Lunch in Loes

The team also comprised Dr Wayne Pearson – on his 8th trip – and Sally Stephens – already on her 3rd trip in one year! The team was joined by Aida in the first week and together they treated patients in Maubara Clinic, Pauirobo Primary School and Loes High School. Blanche and Aida tag-teamed a chair, while Sally and Wayne made a dynamic duo. The team were particularly impressed with the kids’ teeth at Loes. This school had last been visited by one of our dental teams in 2010, however, it was also one of those schools targeted by a oral health education workshop run in 2008 by Sandra Meihubers and Timorese dental therapist, Elisabeth, as well as a toothbrushing program run by Sr Filomena. The team was pleased that the fillings that the dentists had placed were still there – good quality work – but they were even more impressed that the oral hygiene and decay rate had dropped significantly – evidence of the importance of education. Plans are afoot for Aida, Blanche and Sr Filomena to do a refresher workshop next year and will involve not only school teachers, but also local doctors and nurses.

Aida with some help from Mom
Aida and a helpful Mom

Aida’s skills in diagnosis have improved dramatically and she is now a dab hand at extractions (although she says that her confidence diminishes without the team’s ‘safety net’). We are now working on increasing her experience with fillings in the front teeth. She is a great clinician and the team thoroughly enjoyed their week with her.

The first week was plagued by team erosion – Sr Filomena is now the Big Boss at Maubara and so she had to attend several meetings over the week; Sally was struck by a lurgy which took her out of active service for a day (although she spent that day doing more stocktaking than resting!), nevertheless, the team still managed to finish treating all the students in Loes, in part due to exceptional teacher management.

P1010791 P1010768The end of the first week marked the 25th anniversary of Sr Filomena’s entry into the Carmelite order. This extraordinary woman has been serving the Timorese people for a quarter of a century and she remains humble, joyous and full of love and energy. All who have participated in the program feel truly privileged to have spent time with her. Congratulations Sr Filomena! Felicidades! Parabéns!

Night work in Letefoho
Night work in Letefoho

IMG_4538

Week 2 was spent in Letefoho subdistrict, where the team worked again in their room-with-a-view under the imposing Letefoho church, and visited the nearby villages of Lakau and Lauana. It was a busy, tiring, amazing week. The team arrived in Letefoho just in time to witness the celebration of the Bishop’s inaugural visit – they spent half a day immersed in the spectacle of the crowds, the traditional music and dancing, soaking up the fervour. Once mass was over, the crowds progressed to the dental clinic – the team worked late that night.

Pre- Sr Bernadette
With Sr Bernadette
With Sr Bernadette

For the rest of the week, the team was joined by the ebullient Sr Bernadette, who undertook the tasks of patient registration, catering, drug, sticker and toothbrush dispensing, and crowd control – the team was Organised! Her happy company lifted our hearts the entire week.

Our Lakau clinic
Our Lakau clinic

The visits to Lakau (8.6km) and Lauana (17.8km) were each an hour’s worth of 4WD adventures away from Letefoho. Lakau was extremely windy, perched on the side of a mountain and the team worked in a little bamboo building with a metal roof that threatened to take off with each gust. Lauana, at a little lower altitude, was surrounded by towering Madre de Cacao trees; the church at the top of its steep streets commanding beautiful views over the valley.

The team with the Maubisse boys
The team with the Maubisse boys

The team was in for yet another happy surprise that week. Tino (the Timorese dental therapist we support in Gleno), who had been unable to accompany us due to illness, showed up on Wednesday with Armando, the Timorese therapist we support in Maubisse, who had also brought Ricardo Mendonça, the new dental therapist working with him! Tino was still sick, but was needed as a guide for the Maubisse boys.

With wonderful Tino
With wonderful Tino

Armando felt that he urgently needed more tuition in extractions and reasoned that the 3 hours they spent with the team was worth the 8 hour round trip from Maubisse. It is such dedication that inspires and motivates us in the TLDP. It was a fabulous treat for the team to reconnect with all our Timorese dental therapists in one trip, as well as to meet a new one!

P1020054 The team had a great time in Letefoho. Despite the bracingly cold showers in 12 degree temps (the Fathers are hardcore!), our host, Father Elio, was great company and the hospitality of his crew was second-to-none. Now that he has built a new guesthouse, larger teams will also be able to experience this beautiful area with it’s friendly people.

As always there were the equipment issues particular to working in TL – leaking foot pedals, out-of-control algal growths, the mysterious and inexplicable disappearance of an oil cap after leaving it aside for 60 seconds – but the team took it all in their stride. It was a successful trip – Team 3 treated 516 people, did 370 examinations, 393 extractions, 186 fillings and 169 preventive treatments. Well done team! Thank you to the Maubara crew – Sr Cecilia, Sr Filomena and Idalina; the Letefoho crew – Fr Elio, Fr Ino, Fr Eduardo, Fr Alberto, Mana Lulu and Sr Bernadette; and our Dili crew – Daryl – for making this trip so memorable.

IMG_4512

Team 3 READY

The TLDP sends another team to TL’s fair shores this week. Close buddies, Wayne Pearson and Blanche Tsetong, first met in TL many years ago while serving in a dental team headed by program founder, Sandra Meihubers. With one exception, the pair have formed the core of a team every year since. This year, the pair was to be joined by newbies Beth Bowen and Mary Tuituinnik, however, both gals have had family issues and have had to bow out, leaving the redoubtable Sally Stephens to fill the breach. Sally continues to amaze us all with her dedication and enthusiasm and I am sure this team will have a ball in her company. As this team is tiny, it gets to got to Letefoho! Scenic, airy and peaceful, with Ramelau within spitting distance, Letefoho is one of the most stunning places the teams have had the privilege to visit. The region also has some of the worst roads and, as a result, is very isolated. Lots of work. Lucky Team 3! Wayne leaves his cattle in Grafton, and Blanche, her renovations in the Sunshine Coast, to fly to Darwin this Friday and onward to TL Saturday morning.

The Charming Quirks of working in Timor

John Whyte, Sally, Sam and John Moran
John Whyte, Sally, Sam & John Moran

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.

Sam hands out pressies
Sam hands out pressies

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!

John Whyte and the 'extraction chair'
John Whyte and the ‘extraction chair’

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!

TEAM 1 FLOATS HOME

Keith, Patrick, Sally and Peter
Keith, Patrick, Sally and Peter

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.

Sr Filomena doing a toothbrushing demo
Sr Filomena doing a toothbrushing demo

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.

Keith works his magic
Keith works his magic

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!

Father Bong with Patrick and Peter
Father Bong with Patrick and Peter

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.

Tino and Victor at Cocoa Vila
Tino and Victor at Cocoa Vila

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.

Superslick Team 1 in operation
Superslick Team 1 in operation

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.

Thanks HSH!
David, Sally and Peter with kids say, “Thanks HSH! “

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.

TEAM 1 to KICKSTART 2015

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.