Tag Archives: volunteer dentistry

CONVIVIALITY OVER FRUSTRATION

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!

 

 

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Together we are an Ocean

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)