A dental clinic at Balibo House in East Timor is set to receive $20,000 per annum for the next three years from the Victorian Government.
The funding will pay for a local dental nurse at the clinic, which opened behind Balibo House in August 2016 and is staffed by volunteer dentists from Australia.
Balibo House, a development and education centre set up in memory of the Balibo Five, through the Balibo House Trust, will also receive an upgrade to its conference facilities so that it can hold up to 50 people, and has already received $100,000 from the Victorian Government towards this refurbishment.
Balibo House Trust was established at Balibo House by the Victorian Government in 2003 and, according to their website, aims to enrich the lives of the local community through early childhood education, increasing employment and the local economy, and skills training for locals.
The funding was announced by State Minister for Planning and Labor member for Richmond, Richard Wynne, who said it was an honour to see first-hand the improvements that the Balibo House Trust has helped foster.
“We hope the community assets we’ve provided, working with the local community leaders, have made a real difference to the lives of Timorese locals,” he said.
Before the clinic opened last August there were no dentists in Balibo, and only limited dentists in Dili, which is more than 100 kilometres away.
Melbourne dentist David Bladen has already volunteered twice at the clinic and said the news is fantastic as dentists are sorely needed in Timor.
“It’s a hell of a mess up there,” he said. “There are only four dentists in the country and four million people. That’s fairly difficult.”
Bladen adds that Timor is now facing rising junk food consumption, which only adds to the problem.
“They [Timor] now import a lot of food. That means the big companies are targeting them for highly processed foods high in sugar, so the combination of that [and the lack of dentists] is a total disaster.”
Bladen points out that Australians just don’t get the level of pain from neglected teeth that Timorese do, and that it can be debilitating.
“I saw kids, 12-year-olds, who walked by themselves for two days without their parents to come and see me, just to get out of pain. Things I’ve never seen before. It’s a different world,” he said.
Balibo House, where the clinic is located, is significant for Australia as it is the site where five Australian journalists were killed in 1975 while covering the Indonesian incursions before Indonesia invaded East Timor.
The five had not expected to be targeted, as they were press, but were murdered by Indonesian forces on 16 October 1975.
The journalists had jokingly dubbed the site the Australian Embassy, but now it is a thriving centre for local jobs and education, with the Balibo House Trust facilitating many projects in the area.
Victoria has the biggest population of Timorese people outside of East Timor, and many of them live in Richmond.
Written by JessieAnne Gartlan