I wrote this article for a competition for young dentists. I thought I would post this to share a little bit about the volunteer work I’ve been a part of. I’ve edited it slightly for the blog.
Volunteering my dentistry in less-developed countries has been an incredibly delightful surprise/perk that has come from being in the profession. In my 2nd year out I decided to sign up for a two week stint in the jungles of Papua New Guinea aboard the Pacific Link with Youth With A Mission. I enjoyed that trip so much I signed up for a 2nd trip with the same group 3 months later. Last year I returned to PNG and also went with some medicos to Vanuatu.
The question of the effectiveness of these short trips is one that crosses my mind from time to time. I think of individual patients that we have treated including the lady that came back to thank one of my colleagues the next day saying she had had the first night of good sleep in 3 years. There was also the lady on the island of Tutuba, Vanuatu that informed me she had had various tooth aches for the last 5 years until she was treated.
A large amount of resources and focus goes into training local health workers in PNG. This is seen as truly sustainable work. I have returned yearly and plan to continue to return to train a few local self-trained dentists at Kapuna hospital in the Gulf province. On my first trip into this region, which was also first foray into volunteer work, I was struggling for about 10 minutes digging out a few roots. Morea, the local self-trained dentist who we had invited on the ship seemed very keen to help so I invited him to help. To my surprise, he moved into the mouth with the ease of an expert and had them whipped out in probably less than a minute. Subsequently, after getting over my ego, I had him teach me his techniques for the next week that have stayed with me and stood me in great stead since. I was able to return the favour by teaching and guiding him through restorative dental procedures. On my most recent trip, I met and befriend Manu, who Morea has trained up in his place. An incredible young man of God who displays a level of responsibility and faithfulness that is rarely seen.
The people we treat in these places have such radiant smiles before, perhaps not during treatment, but definitely after treatment. There is something special about providing a skill so valuable to a people free of charge. It is certainly much more enjoyable for the fact that there is much less paperwork and no concern for litigation. There is no money to cloud what is a beautiful transaction. I do feel that in these places and with these beautiful people I receive as much as I give. I share in their food – that sometimes makes me sick, though it is prepared with all their heart. I share in their beautiful cultures – one that lives day by day and seems to be able to appreciate the little things and the beautiful things – something that is rare in our own narcissistic consumerist culture. Though day to day life is very different, I share in our common humanity and appreciate them because they people refreshingly open and transparent and alive.
The future is perhaps an exciting one, and I plan to continue more of this work. What that will look like and be like is in the hands of my Father who shepherds me to places so much better than I could have ever dreamed of. For next year I have penciled in plans to go to East Malaysia, and a return to Kapuna Hospital to see and work with Morea and Manu once again.