Dental Volunteering with Bridge2Aid (B2A)
Almost 48 hours after leaving London Heathrow, we arrived in Chato, a 5-hour drive from Mwanza, on Lake Victoria.
Exhausted, yet excited, we had taken 3 planes (an A380 as well as a Dreamliner for the plane geeks), a ferry and enjoyed a bumpy 5-hour safari drive in our trusty Toyota Landcruiser to arrive in Chato to observe the power of good deeds, hard work and commitment from people making a difference.
Yet I was merely a visitor, a trustee of Bridge2Aid, the real hard work was being done by the volunteers who were on an 8-day assignment to train local clinical officers in emergency Dental care – no mean feat.
There were four of us visiting the amazing work being carried out by the charity volunteers.
Our touring group was lead by Shaenna Loughnane, Bridge2Aid CEO, Jeremy Bagg, Dean of Glasgow Dental School, Lucy Mander of Dental Design, and my good self, visiting in the capacity as the Treasurer trustee of Bridge2Aid.
Humbled by what we saw
I have to say it was truly humbling to see the whole operation in action in Chato.
Set up in a small concrete building in the middle of nowhere which had no electricity the clinical team from Bridge2Aid had set up a six-person surgery (using very basic equipment) plus a compliant Sterilisation room. Jeremy who is an expert in this area was most impressed considering there was no electricity.
Just imagine trying to operate a Sterilisation room without any electricity – yet it functioned almost perfectly, operated by 3 volunteer nurses from the UK and USA.
The Visiting Dental Team of the UK and USA
The visiting dentists on the programme were a friendly yet focused group wanting to help the local clinical officers become proficient in dental extractions.
The visiting dentists ranged in age, from recently qualified all the way to retired dentists wanting to continue helping. All but one of the group were from the UK, with the other Dentist coming all the way from California.
To enhance the camaraderie and ensure things were done in good spirit Abba was played daily at each morning huddle meeting!
Patient after patient, the visiting dental volunteers supervised each and every extraction being carried out by the local clinical officers.
It was hard and exhausting for all concerned, standing on their feet all day, in very basic conditions, with mosquitoes and flies, along with very basic sanitation facilities.
But even in the hardest of conditions, the team trooped on and got on with what they were here for – helping others.
Sustainable work by training local clinical officers.
As far as I am aware B2A is the only Dental charity that puts sustainability at the core of its ethos.
Whilst other Dental charities may go into a country and help for a couple of weeks in treating patients, B2A’s model is all about training local clinical officers in how to extract teeth. This ensures once the volunteers have left, the local Tanzanian clinical officers can extract teeth from patients when required.
So instead of the B2A volunteers pulling teeth, their job was to train the clinical officers in how to do this.
So at the beginning of the week, the clinical officers had never actually extracted any teeth, but by the end of their training, they were extracting 30 teeth a day – each!!!!
More than most Dental students perform in their 5 years at Dental school in the UK.
Over 526 clinical officers trained and 50,000 patients treated.
By the end of the week, the clinical officers had extracted over 1000 teeth and seen over 1100 patients.
Interesting to note, since Bridge2Aid started in Tanzania, 50,000 patients have been seen and 526 clinical officers have been trained in Dental extractions greatly helping many rural communities across Tanzania.
Sustainability is at the core of this charity.
The old saying of you can feed a man a fish, or you can teach a man to fish is truly at the core of B2A and should be something that must be celebrated.
Long may it continue.
Finally, a big thank you to all the people involved in this trip, it was humbling yet inspiring, and has provided me with further energy to try and propel the excellent work the charity continues to do.
To get involved, donate or raise funds for Bridge2Aid please visit their website.