in 2012 a group of ten Dentaid dental volunteers spent a week working with Operation Smile in Morocco carrying out dental outreach clinics in children's homes and remote villages, and treating hundreds of children and carers.
The Dentaid team also fundraised towards the project and helped provide four portable chairs so that the project could expand its services to children in more remote areas.
Another opportunity arose to help Operation Smile again and in May 2013 a team of ten dental professionals (Mark Inman – group lead and dentist; dentists Hoda, Khadija, John, Nectarios, and Yordan; hygienist Laura and dental nurses Debby, Sue, Rachael) travelled to Morocco – a first visit for Essex dentist Khadija Bakali, who writes:
“I cannot describe how excited I was when I first found out that Dentaid was doing their first volunteering trip to Morocco, May 2012. This was at the BDA conference in April 2012 and since it was too late to apply for this first trip, I eagerly applied for the next year. I was filled with joy when I received the confirmation email that I was one of the chosen ones for the mission.
“Being born in Morocco, though living in Sweden since the age of four, this was an amazing opportunity for me to volunteer for the first time in my native country. Though I did research on the dental education, children’s oral health and traditional dentistry in Morocco, while studying Dentistry in Sweden, I did not know what to anticipate.
“On Saturday evening, we were welcomed by a warm and pleasant breeze at the airport in Casablanca. The Sunday included a visit to Hassan II mosque (which is the largest in the country and the seventh largest in the world) and stands on a promontory, looking out to the Atlantic Ocean, with all its pride and astonishing architecture.
“We were invited to visit an American high school to attend their half term celebrations.
Being first welcomed by the delicious scent of Moroccan mint tea and bakery, we watched students’ presentations, theatrical and dancing acts and listened to their songs, all in English, only after less than a year’s studies. I was very soon filled with respect and admiration for these children, so grateful and ambitious and making the best out of the chances given to them in this developing country.
“At the end of the day we made our way to El Jadida, so we could start our mission, which included five days of various challenges. The mission involved everything from only being able to carry out extractions in a rural school (not necessarily on a dental chair), to actually being able to offer restorative work in a dental surgery - the Operation Smile Clinic. We also had a chance to treat children and staff from a Handicap Centre.
“The diversity taught us quickly how to be flexible and tested our ability to work as a team, which, consisting of six dentists and four assistants, was indeed phenomenal. We soon became one, like a family, despite our different experiences, backgrounds and cultures.
“Having the hotel located just by the beach made it possible for us to go for a swim, a walk, or even join locals for some bare feet beach football, before or after a hard day’s work. Where did we get all this energy from? I feel more tired after a normal 9-5 shift in the UK, than after a very early start, a very late finish, numerous hours of travel and field dentistry! The answer is simple though - the children’s bravery and appreciation were more than enough motivation.
“In total, with the aid of local dentists, we saw about 2000 children for triaging and carried out around 400 extractions. All children were very excited to get a toothbrush, toothpaste and oral hygiene instructions. Red noses and stickers were passed around and air bubbles were blown.
“Seeing the poverty in this beautiful country was heartbreaking. We are so lucky and privileged to have easy access to the NHS in the UK, and similarly in Sweden. The majority of these children had never seen a dentist in their life; the distance and economy did not allow that. But to see how brave and grateful they were for us being there and offering a helping hand, made me feel reborn and has changed me in so many ways.
A trip of a lifetime! Priceless and so rewarding! I cannot wait to go out there again next year!”