Dentist Volunteer - Chris Snell

While riding in the Tour de Timor mountain bike race I realised East Timor was in desperate need of help and the people had been so friendly and supportive while I was there, it was the least I could do was volunteer with Equal Health. Plus, the President HE Jose Ramos-Horta asked me to come back after the race and help! So, how could I refuse?

I decided to volunteer with Equal Health because they work with CCT and I felt it was more beneficial long term to support a local organisation and mentor local people.

On arrival at East Timor I found friendly and happy people who needed help ... lots of it. Far and away the highlight was the friendly people, including both patients, the CCT staff and the other Equal Health volunteers.

One funny memory was after pulling out 'umpteen' teeth in kids about five to seven years of age, who were unbelievably well-behaved and stoic, we did a topical fluoride on a six year old who promptly burst into tears and left sobbing her heart out! Another funny memory was the teacher who was upset after we checked her teeth and gave her an adult toothbrush - she wanted a Barbie one! Last funny memory - after working on all these people who had never had a filling, with no equipment, no drills or anything, we had a guy walk in with a perfect amalgam who wanted it changed for a 'white one'!

Compared to working in Australia, in East Timor there is no electricity or water, a shortage of instruments and materials, and everyone was so happy and grateful just to be seen ... no fuss, no grumpy patients, just patients very happy to be seen.

My experience in East Timor has reminded me not to take anything for granted. I now look at everything differently - rubbish removal, power, food, diet ... all sorts of things. However, I think I'll be a bit less tolerant of fussy patients though!

My recommendation to a new volunteer is to not to hesitate, just do it!

Chris Snell - Dentist, Dr Snell and Aurelio Surgery, Victoria