The first EthiopiaSmile dental mission trip was in the Fall of 2010, and began as a group of friends came around the idea of using dentistry to love the people of Ethiopia. In a country of 80 million people with under 100 trained dentists in the entire country, dental needs are rampant to say the least. Dental prevention and basic oral hygiene are not a part of the national culture. Morbidity and even mortality, directly related to dental infection, is a common occurrence, especially among the millions living in extreme poverty.
This past December, EthiopiaSmile V, consisting of eight dentists, 2 hygienist, and a pediatric doctor were joined by over 30 other non-dental volunteers in traveling to the capital city Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and six hours south to the mountain village of Dube Bute. Partnering with local ministries and churches, we were able to care for those most vulnerable. Just under 1,000 patients were assessed and treated. In light of the Biblical passage of James 1:27, we focused on caring for orphans, widows, the elderly and those children with obvious dental infection.
Keeping with the mission to love the people of Ethiopia as we felt Jesus would, we had a “buddy system” in place. Non-dental friends partner with a patient and walk them through the various stations as they receive treatment. Holding hands, rubbing their backs and stroking their hair broke down the language barrier and calmed their fears as most of them had never seen a dentist before.
Another unique aspect of our trip is the sterilization process that has been developed. A dear and talented friend reconstructed a large pressure cooker into a fully functional autoclave. We used three, continually running, butane-heated autoclaves to keep sterile instruments available.
Because of the generosity of many friends, families and organizations like the Henry Schein Cares Foundation, we are able to take very necessary dental and medical supplies to serve the needs of the dear people of Ethiopia.
Multiple things impact the lives of those that participate in EthiopiaSmile trips. The joy that radiates from faces of the patients we treat, in spite of their dire circumstances, is infectious. The team of almost perfect strangers operating together, with a common purpose and goal is inspiring. It’s a beautiful thing for a dentist to step in, graciously care for patients in a less than ideal setting with limited resources to do what he or she knows how to do. It’s just as beautiful seeing an engineer, stay-at-home mom, salesman, grandmother or teenager work outside of their comfort zone as an assistant or patient buddy. All in the spirit of love, being the hands and feet of God to these dear people.
Traveling to Ethiopia has a way of changing you, putting the stresses and cares of this world in perspective, helping break out of the small world we live in to see a larger world full of needs, needs we have been blessed to be able to meet – at least in some small way.