Louise Maher: Louise Maher’s CommUNITY News no. 2

Louise teaching a client's family about physiotherapy
Dear Friends,

Well, another three months in Dili has passed by, and I have now been here for six. Things continue to be so very real and enriching here.

So, for the last six months really we have been focusing on finishing the building site of the Timor Lo ro Sa’e Centre for Physical Rehabilitation (a new name, now we realize we will be doing lots more than just making prosthetics and orthotics), and getting all the negotiating done with government departments ,etc. The clinic is going so well, and I’m pleased to finally be able to report some achievements! It is finished, and looking really good, so my days as site supervisor are almost behind me. The last few traumas have involved grills, screens, septic tanks, more tile issues, plaster traps, water tanks, retention payments and the like…all those things that I know so much about! A few people have started recommending me lately for information about building in East Timor, which is interesting, until I realize I can actually answer most of their questions, which I then find extremely amusing. It is a great building, and so perfectly built for clinical services and making prosthesis, so we are really looking forward now to starting the services it was built for!

It seems to be a really great thing for their area that such an important clinic will be situated there.

I’ve also been organizing all the furniture and equipment for the clinic and wherever possible have tried to source local items or use local labor. A really lovely and mutually beneficial arrangement is that we have been getting lots of our furniture made in the local prison, from a project aimed at giving prisoners skills for when they get out; so I have had quite a few interesting visits there! We also had a lot of specialized equipment for making prostheses coming from Europe, and I learned a lot more about working within East Timorese bureaucracy trying to get that stuff off the docks and into the clinic (which took about five weeks!). Trying to get it all off the truck and into the clinic was a whole other story, involving about twenty men, a big forklift, broken tiles, and a lot of wet equipment and people!

Timor Lorosae Centre for Physical Rehabilitation (TLCPR)
We have been recruiting all the staff for the clinic also, which has been a real cultural lesson. For the positions like cleaner and guard we tried to recruit only very local staff from the immediate neighborhood called Becora where the clinic is, which is known for being a particularly poorer area of Dili. It seems to be a really great thing for their area that such an important clinic will be situated there, and we really hope it will be something they are proud of. So we had long consultations with the three local cheffes (chiefs) about who to interview and employ, and we now have some really lovely local staff: one admin person, a cleaner, a gardener and two night guards. My Tetum is improving exponentially since they came on board as I must speak with them daily!

For the last two weeks we have been trying to start the physio services, and to start referral processes etc. So each afternoon I am going down to Dili Hospital, starting to attend some of the hospital clinics and rounds, as well as do some work with the hospital staff providing some therapy. At the hospital I have began treating one of previous leaders of the Falantil, who has had a stroke, and he is a lovely patient, very lively and insightful and keen to improve. We have a lovely system whereby I am teaching him to walk better, while he teaches me to speak Tetum better!

We have started the recruitment process for the local staff who will work with me to learn therapy skills. There are no physiotherapists in the country, so we have decided to employ nurses, so that at least they will know some anatomy and physiology. They will probably start in June I think, once our service is slightly up and running, and some of the crinkles have been ironed out!

We have a lovely system – I teach him to walk better; he teaches me to speak Tetum better!

The grand official opening of the clinic is on April 14, so that will be a good milestone, and long awaited. We have strong links with government, because eventually they will run our clinic, so hopefully the Prime Minister and the President of Timor Leste will be there at our opening to give the clinic an official seal of approval! For those with internet access, have a look at www.asserteasttimor.com to hear more about our work here so far.

I was extremely happy and lucky to have my sister come up here to visit me over Easter, and we went for a drive over the holidays to explore a few places- went to Maubisse, a lovely little town high up in the mountains, and then to Baucau which is on the coast. Very lovely! It truly is such a beautiful island, I really feel so lucky that I can do a job like mine in such a beautiful place, it really does help to keep me peaceful and sane! Busy days at work are always balanced by a beautiful walk, swim, or beer down by the beach at sunset.

So I think that is enough news for now! Thanks again for all your care and support.

Louise

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I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands
to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. - Mohandas Gandhi