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!
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!
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’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.
The 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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
Last Thursday, vital supplies for the Timor Leste Dental Program were delivered to Rotary’s Donation in Kind warehouse in West Footscray, Victoria, where in two weeks, they will be placed in a shipping container bound for TL (via Hong Kong!!?) – an unwieldy way to get goods across to a country that remains without a postal system. Many, many thanks go to Ben Sheen, who drove the supplies from Sydney to Melbourne.
Amongst these supplies are an electric dental chair, bound for Railaco, a portable suction unit, a dental drills cart and lots of consumables! Many thanks to the amazing Keith Mentiplay for checking out the chair, to fabulous John O’Connor for overhauling the dental cart, to Dr Gordon Howe for donating the suction unit and to Dentsply for the consumables. Special thanks to Henry Schein Halas for the 15 cartons of gloves, bibs, and masks etc- the Henry Schein Cares team really came through for us at short notice. Thank you Jessica and Kira! I know that our dental teams will truly appreciate NOT having to carry all this stuff to TL this year!
Our gear should arrive in Dili by March 22, where it will be taken in hand by our hardworking Rotary Liaison Officer, Daryl Mills, who seems to effortlessly, and tirelessly, juggle all the needs of all the Rotary Programs in Timor Leste. Daryl will distribute the gear – just in time for the first team which arrives in April! Thanks Daryl!
Like all volunteer programs, the Timor Leste Dental Program exists because of the efforts of a multitude of dedicated, generous, caring people. We are grateful for you all.