Good people doing good things
Late last year I was lucky enough to be selected to participate on this year’s UCC Dental Outreach Programme. UCC undergraduate dentistry students have a long-standing tradition of participating in the programme and aiding people who need, but don’t have access to, dental care.
The 20ı7 programme was organised by a community-based not-for-profit organisation called Around Good People (AGP). Once selected, I was joined by 10 of my classmates in Nepal where we would carry out AGP’s stated mission to: “Deliver oral health care, servicing thousands of people, at no charge, throughout the mountain communities of Nepal.” This is done by “bringing the international dental volunteer community who can meet the basic dental care needs of the resource-poor Nepal in a sustainable way”.
Arrival and acclimatisation
At Kathmandu international airport, we were picked-up by AGP staff and brought to a hotel within Kathmandu. We spent two days preparing for the clinic through lectures on dentistry and oral healthcare in Nepal, cultural sensitisation, language essentials and discussion workshops with the rest of the clinical team we would be working with. It was a lot to take in in just two days (while also acclimatising to unfamiliar surroundings); however, the initial days were essential in introducing yourself to the AGP team and clinical supervisors who we would be working with closely throughout the project. Crucially, we were able to develop relationships before all the stresses and strains of life in the clinic would take hold.
Then the real work started. On day three of the programme we set off on a three-and-a-half-hour journey to the mountainous village of Tistung Palung where both the clinic and accommodation would be based. The journey involved us negotiating the dusty roads of Kathmandu and winding roads through the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range. Negotiating those obstacles would have you longing for home – I have promised myself never to complain about the M50 traffic or level of careless driving on Irish roads ever again!
Upon arrival at the village we were brought to the local primary school in which the clinic would be based. However, when approaching the school, the group was welcomed with what I can only describe as a Michael D Higgins presidential level of welcome. The whole village had come out to greet our arrival and we were presented with traditional Nepalese scarves (Khata) and indigenous flowers. It was all quite surreal and something we all agreed we had not ever experienced before!
Down to work
With the excitement of the welcoming ceremony from the previous day over, it was time to get to work. We were split into two clinical groups with a total of five dental chairs. Each group had a clinical supervisor, dental hygienist and three interpreters recruited from the village and our UCC group split. As can be seen in the pictures it really was “dental care in a resource-poor” situation.
Going from seeing four patients on a good day in the dental hospital in Cork to 12-18 patients was a big step up for everyone, but a challenge we were ready to accept. Throughout the week, we took it in turns in giving the local school children oral hygiene instructions, toothbrushes and fluoride treatments.
As villagers turned up to the primary school they where screened, blood pressure and blood glucose levels recorded and triaged, with the more urgent cases being treated first. Treatments involved scaling, restorations and extractions. With the situation we were in, anything could and would present to the clinic. But we were determined to treat our patients with respect and dignity, which showed in the satisfied reactions and thankfulness we received.
We also had to be mindful of both our level of experience and resources. For some patients who did present themselves to the clinic, it soon became apparent that there was more underlying medical issues which we were unable to treat. Personally, I found this hard to take, particularly with young children.
Time to be thankful
The last two days of the programme were based in Kathmandu where we visited a primary school and orphanage to give OHI, toothbrushes, fluoride and other emergency treatments. The orphanage visit was particularly poignant for the group. Being in a room with 25-30 faces smiling and knowing that each of these children did not have a mother, father, aunt or uncle to call their own really makes you think and realise how thankful you are for all the friends and family you have back home.
With the stunning lush green colours of the Himalayan mountainside, our daily commute to the clinic felt more like a walk on part on The Chronicles of Narnia.
Everyday did present its challenges both professionally and personally for everyone. But over the seven days on-site we managed to screen and treat more than 1,600 villagers, which is some going considering the resources we had available!
And with that we were done. Our two-week Nepalese experience was a huge social, cultural and professional experience for everyone in the group, and something none of us will ever forget. On behalf of everyone, I would like to thank those involved in making the trip possible. Especially Praj and the whole AGP group. The work they are doing is incredible and I would urge anyone who wants to help to get in touch with them.
It is not until you look back that you realise the amount of resources and human effort that was needed
to make everything possible. From the very top of the logistics organisation, right down to the village translators, without whom communication with the patients would not be possible.
For more information on the Around Good People social enterprise, visit their website aroundgoodpeople.com
You can find Damien on Instagram for more information and pictures of the trip, @emaildamo