I’ve just arrived back from a week long clinic in East Timor. I was quite shell shocked when I arrived there. The logistical difficulties of setting up the clinic were immense.
It really pays, if you are considering doing a clinic in a third world country, to be incredibly organised.
Although I arrived with no expectations I certainly under estimated how tough it was going to be. The communication was my biggest challenge. There are four languages spoken and english is the least common.
To establish a clinic like mine, you really needs to take absolutely everything that you are going to need. The very few assumptions I made created significant problems for me.
For example, butane gas lighter refills just weren’t available anywhere.
Running water was not available in the clinic space. I had an open window for a sink and bottled water for washing hands.
Time is not regarded in the same way in Timor. No matter what time I made appointments for people they all showed up at the crack of dawn. I would arrive to find a crowd waiting for me – forget the quiet morning coffee! Not that there was a kettle!
By the weeks end I’d managed to make eleven eyes and some good friends. I had to work very differently in this clinic.
As time and resources were scarce I started with stock eyes. They were reshaped to get the fit and focus right. I then made moulds of the eyes and touched up the colour. This enabled me to finish these eyes in the three days that I had to work with.
I am looking forward to going back to the East Timor Clinic some time next year. With this first visit out of the way I now have a better understanding of the challenges. Next time I’ll be better organised, with a hospital clinic space, a translator and more experience of how things work.
I kept a diary of my experiences in Timor and I’m looking forward to writing a longer article for the website.
I will never take running water for granted again!