Staff and students bring relief to Timorese orphans
University staff and students are planning to take another trip to an isolated West Timor district, where there is only one dentist for a population of 500,000.
Desperate refugee families
During the 1999 violence in East Timor, hundreds of thousand of its citizens were displaced to West Timor. Today, 150,000 refugees still remain in approximately 200 refugee camps.
Despite the help of aid agencies, parents struggle to provide their children with adequate health care and education and live in constant fear of child abduction. In the Soe district, Project Lily orphanage, established by the NSW Central Coast's Coastlife Church, has taken in many children from refugee families. “It's hard to even begin to imagine the desperation and despair that might bring a parent to consider giving up a child”, says Barbara Clare, volunteer and registered nurse at the University's Ourimbah campus.
Project Lily orphanage is in the Soe district, West Timor
University volunteers make a difference
In July last year, Barbara travelled with University Oral Health students and lecturers, Associate Professor Jane Taylor and Linda Wallace, to take dental care to the children of the orphanage and refugees in the surrounding area. They were joined by a dentist, dental nurses, general practitioners, nurses and a paramedic for the 10-day trip. “It was wonderful how everyone worked as a team”, Barbara says.
The volunteers were based in the orphanage, but slept in a nearby hotel. Every day clinics were set-up and attempts were made to connect with local schools to teach preventative education in oral health. “There is a complete dearth of oral health care”, Barbara laments. “There is only one dentist for the distict population of 500,000. There is also what is called a public hospital, but you can't access either service unless you have money.”
While the team were able to make great inroads in educating and comforting these isolated people, a shortage in supply of ongoing pain management remains a concern. “Sometimes people would have four or five teeth removed because they were in so much pain,” Barbara says. “There were some people in great pain who we could only give a couple of days worth of pain relief due to shortage in supplies.”
Smiles all round
Despite this, the reaction they received from the people was overwhelming. Some had walked for six hours the previous day and slept on the floor of the local church to attend a clinic. They also dressed-up in their best clothes. “They were so happy to be seeing us”, Barbara smiles. “The people are so stoical and so patient. How could I not go again? It puts you up against things that you just hear about.”
The experience also exposed students to situations they may never see as an oral health practitioner in Australia. “This helped to expand their clinical knowledge and it is also a rewarding experience on a personal level,” says Associate Professor Taylor.
Another trip scheduled for October 2012
The team is busy preparing for a trip in October this year.