Driven by passion and compassion
Health support volunteer Fatima Mendonca
During six years as a volunteer for East Timor Hearts Fund, health worker Fatima Mendonca, 30, has accompanied an astonishing 19 patients to Australia.
As an interpreter and health support worker, Fati (as she is affectionately known) puts her own life on hold several times a year to undertake the emotionally challenging task of guiding patients and their families through the sometimes frightening process of flying to Australia for surgery.
Fati’s dedication is truly extraordinary. When young patient Alia had an unexpectedly long stay in Australia, extending over Christmas 2016, Fati had to choose between remaining to support the 15-year-old and her mother Octavia, or returning to spend Christmas with her own family.
She chose Alia.
“I felt quite sad for me, and my own family, especially my mum, but I realise that Alia’s life needed to be saved,” Fati said.
“She is the future of Timor-Leste,” Fati added, about her young charge, who aspires to be a doctor.
This was by no means an isolated act of selfless professionalism. When Fati was asked to accompany Nelson, a farmer and father of three, to Australia in August 2016, she did not hesitate, even though it meant spending her birthday in Sydney, far from family and friends.
Travelling to Australia for weeks, or occasionally months, with a patient she may have only met a few times before, can be emotionally draining. But Fati says even though the patients may come from very different regions or circumstances, “when we are going to a big country like Australia, we are family”.
Fati’s work with East Timor Hearts Fund also includes supporting the volunteer medical team when it conducts screening clinics at Bairo Pite Clinic, the non-government service in Dili where she works. Fatima interprets for patients and medical and administrative volunteer staff, helping the process run smoothly.
In her day job, Fati is officially a “treatment room assistant”, a title that belies the skill and complexity of her tasks. Although she is not a nurse, patients at Bairo Pite Clinic flock to Fati for her wound care expertise. She is renowned for her abilities to suture wounds, cleanly and as painlessly as possible.
“My typical work every day would involve things like dressing wounds, suturing small wounds and doing observations for the patients,” Fati said.
“I also do translating work, helping our volunteers such as internationals doctors in the treatment room.
“I normally see five to 10 patients a day. Sometimes I go out to the districts to pick up patients if they have got a problem with wound care. That’s our job.”
Fati is driven by passion and compassion – in her work at Bairo Pite Clinic, and with East Timor Hearts Fund.
“I am incredibly compassionate and I have a way of instantly putting patients at ease,” Fati says, without any false modesty.
“If I can’t perform a task myself, I can be found at the patient’s bedside holding a hand or playing with a scared child.
“I am passionate about work and passionate about helping improve the health of the Timorese people.”
Read Fati's story in our 2016 annual report here.