Just Back from Kenya
In February 2013, 20 intrepid volunteers traveled to Africa
to inaugurate Global Dental Relief 's first dental clinic in Kenya.
The clinic was held at the Kikuyu Dental Hospital outside of
the capital of Nairobi in a beautiful eight-chair dental facility.
Over the course of five days, volunteers treated 1,038 children
in a clinic rich with new friendships and time shared between
vastly different cultures and life experiences.
Volunteers included four dentists, two hygienists and 11 nondental
volunteers - a nurse, photographer, realtor, lawyer, several
retirees and others - who came from Canada, the U.S. and
Germany. The group was joined by Dr. Wambugu, the director
of the dental hospital, and his very able Kenyan staff (Fig. 1).
As the clinic got underway, volunteers discovered the highlight
of the whole experience: the wonderful Kenyan children.
The first line of 50 children formed at the door, each child holding
a dental chart. The air burst with giggles, chatter and excitement
as these terrific kids waited - each with a wide open smile
and an interest in discussing the proceedings and many other
topics with the volunteers (Fig. 2).
Each day began with toothbrush instruction, an energetic,
highly interactive experience led by volunteer Maro Casparian
from Denver (Fig. 3). Maro had the children chanting "two
times a day" and "touch every tooth" while singing, dancing and
calling out answers to oral health questions. This sight was so
tender that volunteers repeatedly left the clinic to go outside and
join in the sharing of songs, stories and education.
The clinic experience for patients began with an initial exam
by one of two "intake" dentists. Those needing further care were
given anesthesia and sent for restorations and extractions. The
remainder received a cleaning and fluoride treatment and then
exited the clinic with a carefully selected sticker of their choice.
Generally, children had good oral health; approximately 40 percent
of the patients needed extractions or restorations, though
the percent needing care noticeably increased with age.
The children were a vibrant part of each day, making up new
names for themselves as they awaited their exams. Most creative
was a boy who announced his new name was "Pain Killer." As
volunteer Mary Miller, retiree from Pagosa Springs, Colorado,
and six-time GDR volunteer says: "It was so easy to flow into
the new environment of Kenya. The kids sit in the dental chairs
with apprehension and slide out of the same chair with huge
smiles because they made new friends and had someone do
something good for them."
Matt Hart, a golf pro working in the clinic to sterilize instruments,
met a boy he will never forget - a savvy six-year-old who
tugged on his scrubs and told him he needed to go home, knowing
he was next up to get a tooth pulled. As Matt says: "I bought
it hook, line and sinker! So many great memories and so many
'firsts' for me. It truly was a special experience" (Fig. 4).
Mid-way through the week, volunteers experienced the second
highlight as they headed to Lake Nakuru for a day of rest
and safari. Surrounded by a panorama of zebras, rhinos and
giraffes, it finally sunk in that they were far from home and truly
in Africa, a wondrous place unlike anywhere else on earth (Figs.
5 and 6).
In five days, volunteers treated 1,038 children with 500
restorations, 122 extractions, 202 cleanings and 700 fluoride
treatments. As the final day drew to a close, the group was
somber with the thought of leaving the children and the critical
dental care they needed.
The experience is best captured by Dr. Jimmy Nelson (Figs.
7 and 8) from Wyoming who said: "Sitting with this beautiful,
braided-haired Kenya girl, timid but trusting as she opens her
mouth, I was struck with a rush of thoughts about all that I
enjoy in my life. I had to catch my breath and scoot back a
minute to compose myself, overwhelmed with the knowledge
that because I have been given much, I too must give. It is such
a treat to give to those who have very little - and from this experience
I receive so much!"
Join Us on Future Trips
In 2013, Global Dental Relief volunteers travel to six countries - Nepal, India,
Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala and Kenya - to provide dental care to children
(Fig. 9). Trips range from seven to 21 days and include a five-to-six day dental
clinic, followed by optional sightseeing. Volunteers pay their own expenses, and
Global Dental Relief provides the supplies, equipment, patients and organization.
Trips are open to dental professionals - dentists, hygienists and dental assistants,
and non-dental volunteers. Students, lawyers, social workers, spouses and
friends who join provide critical clinic support. Non-dental volunteers manage
the lines of children, help with charting and records, assist dentists and sterilize
instruments. They assist in all the duties that make each clinic effective and fun
for volunteers and children alike.
Clinic days are intense and rewarding. Days start with a line of children arriving,
excitedly calling out the local greeting of Namaste, Juley or Hola! They peer
into the clinic, pointing and discussing the day ahead. The clinic runs six or seven
dental chairs where each child receives an exam, a cleaning when possible, and all
extractions and restorations needed. Each child is given a toothbrush, oral
hygiene instruction and a fluoride treatment (Fig. 10).
Volunteers never tire of watching the children who come to each clinic, children
who are often so excited they walk to the examination chair with their
mouths' already wide open. Later, these same children can be seen outside, enthusiastically
pointing into their open mouths and explaining to the curious kids still
in line about what lies ahead.
Dr. Duane Erickson (Fig. 11) is an orthodontist from Maryland who travels
to Guatemala and revives his restorative skills working in GDR clinics. After his
third trip with GDR, Duane said: "This was an incredibly moving and rewarding
experience. The faces of those children will stay with me for a long time. It
takes so little for us to make a difference in their lives. I'm already looking forward
to going back."
Most importantly, Global Dental Relief returns to each school every two years to give children consistent, long-term care. While hard to conceive for us in the United States, dental care is simply not available to the general population in many parts of the world. For children, a life without dental care can lead to chronic pain, infection, sleepless nights and poor nutrition. GDR's volunteers provide such care for children, leading to live longer, healthier lives.
As long-time volunteer Dee Ossel (Fig. 12) says: "There is no greater feeling
than watching these kids go from painful infected teeth to laughing healthy
smiles. Volunteering is a great way to see the world and help others, but in the
process you will receive far more than you could ever give."
Make a difference by giving the gift of health to a child. To join a Global
Dental Relief trip, visit www.globaldentalrelief.org for 2013-14 trip schedules and
itineraries, call 303-858-8857 or e-mail email@example.com