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31 Jul 2016 | Australasian Dental Practice

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Bright future for site of Balibó tragedy

Philanthropy, Charity and Volunteering

The Timorese town of Balibó, notorious for the tragic fate of the "Balibó Five", five Australian-based news journalists and cameramen killed during the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, is to be the site of a new dental clinic established by the Balibó House Trust.

Balibó House was the last refuge of the five Australian-based journalists during the Indonesian incursion in 1975 before they were killed.

The Balibó House Trust was established by the Victorian Government in 2002 to purchase and refurbish Balibó House so it could be handed back to the people of the district for use as a community learning centre.

The latest project of the trust is to establish a new dental clinic at the rear of the Flag House. The Trust has partnered with the Rotary Clubs of Keilor and Port Melbourne and has received a very generous donation of two A-dec chairs from Dental Health Services Victoria, two A-dec dental stools from A-dec and two dentalhand piece packages from W&H to equip the new clinic.

The town of Balibó has become a symbol of East Timorise and Australian relations, with the Balibó Community Learning Centre officially opened by Trust Patron and former Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks; current Prime Minister of Timor-Leste Xanana Gusmão and the former Prime Minister and President of Timor-Leste José Ramos-Horta on 31st October 2003.

This ceremony took place in the presence of family members of the Balibó Five, international dignitaries and 1,500 people from Balibó and surrounding villages.

As the epicentre of the Balibó community, the new community facilities provided by the Trust have been given additional impetus by the magnificently restored 300-year-old Portuguese Fort and Fort House at Balibó and visitor accommodation to promote tourism and provide employment in the Bobonaro District. The Balibó Fort Hotel is now open and will provide 4-star accommodation for visiting dentists.

The proposed Balibó Dental Clinic aims to improve the oral health of the local population by providing access to local dental treatment, community education and prevention programs. There are only five dentists in Timor Leste, four of whom are located in Dili. There are no dentists located in Balibó and a limited dental service available in Maliana. Balibó and the surrounding villages have a population of around 15,000.

A number of volunteer dental programs currently exist in Timor-Leste and the Trust has contacted each of these providers to gain a better understanding of how dental programs work in Timor Leste and how the lessons learnt could be applied to Balibó.

The two-chair air conditioned Balibó Dental Clinic will be staffed by volunteer dentists from Australia who will be registered with the Australian Dental Board.

Once opened, the Balibó Dental Clinic will initially aim to operate for approximately two weeks, four times a year and will be staffed by at least two dentists, a dental nurse and a receptionist providing an interpreter service.

As more volunteer dentists join the program from Australia, the clinic will operate more frequently. The Trust is seeking support for this program through financial donations, equipment donations or volunteers who work in the dental industry.

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