Subject: A healing hand in East Timor 

Monday, August 17, 2009 9:35 AM CDT

A healing hand in East Timor


CEDAR FALLS ­ While doctors in the United States clamor for the latest technology, a former Cedar Falls physician has gone back in time, relying on not much more than his stethoscope to diagnose patients.

It has been nearly 11 years since Dr. Daniel Murphy came to East Timor with his black bag in hand. Within hours of his arrival he was summoned to help members of an underground resistance group on the small island nation.

“They took me in a car up to see wounded people in the mountains. As a doctor, you don’t take sides, but I didn’t even have time to get a breath,” Murphy said during a recent visit to Cedar Falls.

Murphy, 64, still has little time to catch his breath. He is founder and director of the Bairo Pite Clinic, which provides the people of Timor-Leste continuous free health support. The clinic is bustling with patients, but not everyone can get there. So, Murphy takes his clinic to them.

His crew is starting with the “poorest of the poor” and working its way around the country of 1 million. While most of his 65 staff members stay at the clinic, Murphy and his crew travel into the remotest regions of the country.

“Even if we have to walk for two hours after the end of the road through a mountain pass and in the fog and rain, there are people out there and they need help, too,” he said.

It isn’t just curative medicine Murphy provides. He educates villagers on what they can do to lead healthier lives.

When possible, he recruits female village leaders who can return to the clinic with him to be trained as midwives. These otherwise uneducated women spend two months in the clinic’s maternity ward and learn to help deliver babies. Once they have shown proficiency they are sent home to help their neighbors.

“These women aren’t going to be a brain drain. They aren’t going to Dili (a Timor town of 150,000). They are going back to their village where they know the language, the culture and the people trust them,” he said. “That is how you make a difference.”

Congregants at Cedar Heights Presbyterian have done their part over the last decade to support Murphy’s work. Cal Schacht, co-chair of the church’s mission committee, said it usually sends between $3,000 and $6,000 a year to the clinic. At one point, the church’s contributions could keep the clinic running for up to two months, however as the clinic grew the money sent wasn’t able to keep up with the demand.

That did not stop parishioners from collecting money and helping any way they could.

“It is a much-needed clinic in a country that doesn’t have any,” Schacht said. “I know Dr. Murphy and how much he cares about people. I think it is amazing this work he is doing. It just tells of the character of this man. He may not be able to change the world, but he is definitely helping in that part.”

Though he is nearing retirement age Murphy said he is far from completing his mission in East Timor. He has watched the country turn from an Indonesian-occupied province to a free nation with some political stability. Most of the residents are poor and uneducated. Many do not have easy access to quality health care and suffer from treatable maladies like tuberculosis.

Those with more serious medical conditions ­ who can’t be treated with a few doses of medicine ­ often die before they find appropriate medical care. Murphy has developed connections with doctors across the world who have offered to take in patients who cannot find the technologically advanced care they need in Timor.

His connections also help him find education opportunities for young Timorese men and women looking to go into medicine. Murphy said many are going to Cuba for training. Others have headed to Ireland, Australia and even Iowa. Eventually, these doctors will return to their home country to continue working for quality health care in East Timor.

“I still really love what I am doing, but I can’t do it forever. I think I am still competent, but I have to start training people to do my work and even expand. I have set my goal as health for East Timor. That is half of one island. It’s 1 million people. It’s doable,” Murphy said. “You can see some progress there. And if I can do a great job in East Timor and build up people’s capacity so they can carry it on, I think that can also be a good example for other places, so this really could have a wider effect.”

You can help

To learn more about how you can support the work of Dr. Daniel Murphy, contact his sister, Maureen Murphy, at (319) 277-7130 or e-mail her at <> All donations will be run through the San Carlos Foundation in Berkeley, Calif., and are tax-deductible. Donations also can be mailed to Cedar Heights Presbyterian Community Presbyterian Church, 2015 Rainbow Drive, Cedar Falls, IA, 50701. Checks can be made out to the Cedar Heights Mission Fund and designated for the Bairo Pite Clinic.

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