I've had a lot of interest in my trip so I thought I'd share some of my emails to give you more detail. I'll add a new post later with more photos.
Well I've been back a week and have finally caught up on sleep. I came
back with a cough but that has finally gone I think.
I wasn't surprised to bring back that as a souvenir as I ending up
helping with medical clinics for most of my stay. I hope that those who
sent sewing things aren't disappointed that I didn't do any sewing with
the ladies, as the medical need took priority. I became good friends
with a Carmelite nun who runs medical clinics for the hill people and
she asked for my help. We saw over 200 people in a day and treated
malaria, TB, and pneumonia primarily and antental and postnatal care.
She also did a lot of public health education and vaccinations as well
as being a nurse practitioner. There were 2 ladies who dispense the
medication and 2 men who keep the medical records. Then the two of us
ran the clinic in full view of the people waiting to be seen. We stopped
for a brief lunch at 3pm and as the day became darker we moved our table
and chairs outside so we could see. We ended the session by candlelight
as there was no electricity.
We saw some very sick babies who we sent into the hospital which is 2
hours walk away. I lanced an infected finger and took B/Ps and listened
to every chest- what a marathon. We had to see everyone, as the clinic
only goes to that village once a month and the people had walked for
more than 2 hours to attend the clinic. It took us an hour to drive
there each way over unsealed roads. We were only about 5 kms away from
the town but didn't get back until 8.30pm. I was priviledged to get this
opportunity and have also been asked to train the hospital staff at the
new hospital in the town, as they have equipment but don't know how to
use it. This will be a huge undertaking so I'm waiting for more
information for this project.
I did hand out the sewing things to the nuns to distribute and left
donated money to fund the care of twin boys who's mother had died and
the father's new wife didn't want them. I hope this was OK with you all.
I did see lots of knitted hats and jumpers using the Aids baby pattern
and they really need warm clothes in this area. I didn't see any of my
quilts up there but did speak with the administrator who had given them
out. However when we got back to Dili we stayed at a former orphanage
which is also used for accommodation for travellers as well as for
former orphans to use while they find work in Dili. Imagine my surprise
when I found that one of my quilts was on my bed. It was donated about 5
or 6 years ago and still holding up well.
I also met the First Lady of Dili, Kirsty Sword Gusmao, and she thanked
me for the donation of quilts. I was surprised that she knew about them
and apparently her boys were given a quilt each as well. She was very
gracious and was happy to pose for a photo. I did buy some polyester tie
dyed long scarves and can sell them for $10 if anyone is interested in
helping to raise money for more projects. I also made lots of good
contacts with ex-pats and locals and have a much better understanding of
Two Aussie Federal police, based at Maubisse, came to say hello and
said that the isolation is the hardest part about the appointment. They
watched the 1989 World Cup on TV last week as it was all they could get
apart from Indonesian TV. I did manage to learn some Tetum but also
found that I could diagnose the patients, often based on their actions.
Sr I. and I decided we talk "nurse and medical" language and found we
agreed on the diagnosis. She seemed to like to have someone to share
with too, but I'm sure she'd manage on her own as she usually does.
So many things to reflect on but just wanted to let you know that the
quilts and warm clothes etc that we've been making and sending over
really do make a difference. Many thanks for all your help and good wishes and I hope you're not
disappointed that I didn't do the sewing as it had been intended. The
nuns will work on that as time allows as their need for medical care is
I have so many things to share about this lovely country that I thought
I'd expand a bit on the information. The country is very young with
very old traditions. I don't profess to understand everything after only
2 weeks but I did get to see a lot and speak with lots of people.
A main feature of the health clinics was checking the kids for signs of
malnutrition and there was evidence of that and parasitic infections. I
didn't see the kids playing with any toys other than a stick used to
propel an old tire rim, like my grandparents used to have. The kids are
supposed to go to school but a lot seemed to stay at home to look after
younger siblings or to work in their vegetable garden.
The hill people's lifestyle is based on subsistence farming and growing
coffee which they sell in markets on Sundays. There was also tobacco
sold and whatever vegetables are extra to the family's needs are sold at
the markets. There is money in East Timor but it doesn't seem to filter
down much out of Dili as there is little infrastructure and this is a
major problem with getting things done. You can buy most things in Dili
such as fabric, embroidery threads and wool but it is expensive and not
available to most people. There are many NGOs doing invaluable work and
the govt is trying to improve the health care of the people. Vaccination
is really promoted and they are also providing high protein food for the
under 5's and this was given to the kids at the health clinic and extra
milk is provided. The people were very friendly and accepting and I felt
very humbled that I was given their trust at the clinics. I heard that
they won't complain about the lack of electricity etc as it has proven
to be fatal to complain in the past.
Things will improve now but lack of food, and health care will be major
challenges for some time. Many of the young adults are very keen to
learn English as there is very high unemployment and English skills
gives them some chance of work in Dili.
The UN police man in charge of the district I visited said that
environmental health is also going to be a big issue. The people dump
their rubbish for the animals to forage through and then it is burnt.
They are in big need of warm clothing and they also loved the tote bags
I took them. They have little to carry things in other than black
plastic biodegradable bags. They use these for rice and to carry bread
from the bakery. The bread is like a small scone and is lovely when warm
but hard on the teeth otherwise. It cost $1US for 20 rolls ie. they are
5cents each and a staple diet with rice and vegetables.
The kids and adults love having their photos taken and seeing them
instantly with the digital camera. I was very lucky to have the
experience and hope to go back again next year to help with the health
care. The nuns were very happy to distribute what I took over to donate
and I have lots of contacts now to continue with them. There is no
reliable mail service so any goods must be sent in by shipping container
to a reliable contact to distribute the goods or taken in by people.
As for helping over there I'm in the process of finding out how to do that
without standing on official toes. The Ministry of Health is in the
process of getting a new standard of education for nurses but it is
unclear what will happen for those already working. I've been told that
they have very little knowledge of basic hygiene practices etc.
As for the sewing/quilting progress there will be plans for future
sewing lessons etc but heath is a major concern at the moment. There are
no patient medical records as far as I could tell as there was a
population of over 24,000 in the area I visited and they visit each area
once a month and it's doubtful that the card for the day would be filed
in a history somewhere. We relied on the patient giving us the history
and not any case notes.
I was also asked to see children of nearby neighbours as their kids were
sick. I'm not sure why they asked me as there is a free clinic. They
used traditional medicine at times rather than the clinic. I found the
kids were scared of me putting the stethoscope to their chests at first
but they all lined up afterwards for their turn. I'd never experienced
the provision of healthcare as a "spectator event" before but everyone
was very patient and stood in line for hours while we worked our way
through them all. The saddest things was seeing young kids (approx
10years) who had walked to the clinic on their own for treatment. I also
saw an 11 year old boy who had been blind in one eye for 3 years, from
an apparent cataract. I'm trying to find out if he can get eye surgery
now as I've heard that there's an eye Dr going over to operate next year.