In February 2008 I was about to fly out to Timor-Leste to start an artificial eye clinic. Nobel peace prize winner Jose′ Ramos-Horta had been elected as President in May of the the previous year. The day before I was due to go to Timor he was shot and critically injured in an assassination attempt. I cancelled my trip and waited for the situation to stabilise.
Thankfully the President recovered and I did eventually make it to Timor in July later that year. It was an extremely challenging experience and I wasn’t as prepared as I needed to be. The country had been through so much trauma and upheaval that arranging things was far more difficult than I’d anticipated.
On that first visit I had six blind patients who spoke no English and I did not have access a translator. The room I worked in had no running water so between patients I washed my hands out the window with bottled water. Just about every aspect of running the clinic was complicated in one way or another. For me it was a bit of a trial by fire. To be honest, after the challenges of that first visit I found it hard to go back.
Fast forward six years and several clinic visits later and so much progress has been made. I’m a lot more organised and I have had help from my husband Michael who helps me run the clinic and sort out unexpected things that come up. I’ve also had a lot of fantastic support from Rotary and the Royal Australian College of Surgeons (RACS). Over the years I’ve worked from several different locations. This past year it has progressed in leaps and bounds. RMS Engineering donated a sea container and RACS applied for a grant through Lions First Sight Foundation to fit the container out as an Artificial Eye Lab. The National Eye Clinic arranged five applicants for the position of trainee ocularist for the new clinic. My thanks to RACS, Lions First Sight, Timor Leste National Eye Clinic and Aus Aid for all their wonderful support.
Now another important milestone has been achieved. I’m very excited that the new clinic has just been officially opened in it’s permanent new home by Jose′ Ramos-Horta. We have two trainees from that clinic coming to Perth soon to continue their training. It’s been a long journey and it’s so satisfying to see the clinic very close to being able to run independently.
Timor itself continues to go from strength to strength and it’s been such a privilege for me to visit each year and see this growth. I’m so relieved Jose′ Ramos-Horta is fully recovered and so very pleased we’ve got this clinic to a point where it is there to serve the lovely people of Timor.