Nepal, the gateway to Mount Everest, arguably the most spectacular landscape in the world is home to over 26 million residents. In January this year I had the opportunity to visit this unique country and experience the most amazing journey as a young dentist.
The charity story so far...
Smiles Across Nepal is a local North East based charity, which I became involved with during my foundation training in Newcastle. Being new to the city the charity proved a great way of meeting new people and socialising with other young dentists who share my passion for dental volunteering. Over this time I became involved in a number of fundraisers, including organising a Grease themed party, raising over £600.
As a registered charity Smiles Across Nepal has carried out three major missions. What particularly enthused me to become involved with this charity is the long-term impact they create in providing access to dental care for rural communities. As well as funding and equipping new dental clinics, I was amazed they have even gone to the length of establishing a Certificate in Oral Health Education (OHE course) with the approval of the UK Northern Deanery. This important teaching trains up rural community health care workers, known locally as the 'paramedics,' at the new Dhulikhel Dental School. I could see instantly that this charity is responsible in the way it provides assistance in Nepal and I was therefore keen to be involved.
Our group was very unique; it was made up of three dentists and two dental assistants, including model Ashley Gittins, winner of the 2014 Miss Newcastle competition. (The Tyne Tees modelling agency has provided major sponsorship to the charity).
As we excitedly approached Nepal (following a 16 hour journey) we sighted the famous Himalayas, home to Mount Everest. We gazed in amazement as our plane circled the Kathmandu Valley and made a speedy landing in the Kathmandu airport, well known to have a short landing strip! The airport was chaotic and weaving through the busy streets of a polluted third world city, with motorcycles galore and goats on car roofs, we were wondering what we had let ourselves in for!
We were pleasantly surprised to arrive in nearby Dhulikhel where we awoke to the tranquil backdrop of the spectacular Himalayan Mountains and knew we were in for an adventure of a lifetime!
Teaching at Dhulikhel Dental School
On the following days we travelled to the Dhulikhel Hospital. It was a steep walk down the path to the new dental school. We were pleasantly surprised to find a modern building with different departments and teaching facilities including a phantom head room, resembling that of a UK dental school! We were welcomed by Dr Ram Shrestha, dean and founder of the hospital.Picture13.JPG
The following day brought my nerves to a head! We had been asked to prepare interactive lectures to teach dental students. I had written mine about oral cancer awareness and was pleasantly surprised to find the Nepalese students were eager in engaging in the lectures and asking questionPicture1.JPGs. The day was successful and the staff thanked us for our trouble.
Outreach in the Himalayas
The following day our charity team split into two groups to travel to remote villages, to open four of the new clinics, two by each team. Finally we would see the efforts from our fundraising in the UK at first hand in Nepal. A friend and myself travelled with Nepalese staff from Dhulikhel in jeeps along the very bumpy dirt tracks out to remote areas in the Kathmandu Valley.
We spent a few days in each of the two outreach centres known locally as Solambu and Kattike Deurali. At each outreach we became the focus of a special celebratory opening ceremony, organised by locals, where we received traditional blessings from villagers, cut the red ribbons and opened the new dental clinics, we felt like celebrities for a day! We then led the way in providing emergency care over the next few days, with the assistance of staff from Dhulikhel. Emergency care comprised mostly extractions and restorations. All patients were very grateful and we knew instantly that all the hard work with fundraising had been worth it. We visited a number of schools to equip each child with their own toothbrush and toothpaste. To help with the instruction of tooth brushing we even got involved and brushed our own teeth, which helped communicate the correct technique to Nepalese children!Picture23.JPG
Each night we were welcomed back to our base at Solambu where we gathered around a bonfire below a stunning star-lit sky, listening to traditional music and trying to join in with the local dancing! During the days on outreach we also got involved in picking our own vegetables from local farms and trekked down to the river and Buddhist temples overlooking the mountains. We even made our own 'momos,' a type of dumpling with a delicious filling, unique to Nepal!
We all agreed that the highlight of our trip was the welcoming community spirit we received throughout our two weeks in Nepal. The unique setting of the Himalayas was a perfect place to deliver dentistry abroad.
Earthquake Relief Effort
As you will be aware in April 2015 there have been a number of devastating earthquakes in Nepal, claiming the lives of over 8,000. Unfortunately one outreach centre was destroyed. Incredibly Dhulikhel Hospital has been at the forefront in providing emergency care to casualties. The charity has fundraised hard over the last few weeks to support the hospital and remote communities and welcome any involvement or donations to our JustGiving page. Smiles Across Nepal will continue to support this unique country throughout this crisis with the aim to rebuild the outreach centre.Picture3.JPG
Dental volunteering is a fulfilling opportunity that I would encourage all young dentists to embark upon in their early careers. The experience I have gained from my work with this charity has proved invaluable to my long-term career goals, helping me to develop the confidence, communication, team working and leadership skills I need, not forgetting the amazing experience of travelling the world!
Trustee: Mary Connolly
Chairman: Dr Sanjeeb Nepali
For more information regarding the Nepal earthquake appeal please contact Mary at her email address email@example.com
Mary Connolly studied at the University of Sheffield and graduated in 2012. She has undertaken a two year foundation training scheme in Newcastle upon Tyne and is now over half way through a year as an SHO in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Sunderland.
Mary has written this article to share her passion for involvement in charity work both locally and abroad and to motivate other young dentists to follow in her path. This article describes her involvement in a local North East based charity Smiles across Nepal at home and abroad and the skills Mary has gained which have been invaluable to her early career development.