In part 1 of a series of 2 posts, Mark Topley, CEO of Bridge2Aid, talks to The REVU about the vitally important work they are doing in Tanzania, and why fundraising efforts such as the Straumann Bike Ride 2016 are so important in bringing relief from dental pain to so many
Bridge2Aid has been very successful in recent years and support for the charity continues to grow. Why do you think the dental profession has become so engaged with Bridge2Aid?
A great many in the dental profession really want to make a difference to other people’s lives and use their considerable skills to do so, especially helping those in the developing world without access to any dental care. Bridge2Aid gives people a vehicle to do just that; by joining the 2-week volunteer programme, they work as a team, training others in emergency dentistry who can then provide a service in the long term for the local community, meeting people’s needs to get them out of dental pain, of which they may have suffered from for months, or even years.
Over the past 12 years Bridge2Aid has provided access to emergency dentistry for a city four times the size of Birmingham, and this could only come about by the work of our volunteers. They love being part of a movement with shared values and much of our growth is through word of mouth, encouraging other friends and colleagues to take part. 42% of our volunteers return at least once, often more, but it’s not about just doing any old thing, it’s about doing something that’s making a genuine difference on the ground, integrating with government policy and being part of the development agenda, rather than just part of the aid agenda.
A team of industry leaders, including Straumann UK’s Managing Director Steve Booth, recently visited Tanzania to see for themselves the work Bridge2Aid is doing there. How do you think the trip impact on them?
This particular team have known about and supported Bridge2Aid for many years, but I still believe it has had a big impact on them. There’s a notable difference between knowing about us and actually witnessing first-hand what we do. When our own Chairman came to Tanzania for the first time he was amazed at the queues of people waiting to be treated and hearing stories of how long they had been in pain and how far they had walked to get treatment. When our visitors see the skills being passed on, the enthusiasm of the volunteers and the skill of the clinicians we are training it brings a new understanding of the importance of the work we do and how effective it is – we have to demonstrate that we are actually making a difference.
What are your thoughts about challenges such as the Straumann Bike Ride to raise funds for Bridge2Aid?
They are amazing in so many ways. I took part in the first Kilimanjaro challenge in 2011 and I’m taking part in September’s Straumann Bike Ride across Spain. The money raised from such events is crucial for us in order to train more people in emergency dentistry and support more of the work on the ground. The profile we get working with Straumann and other highly respected companies and members of the dental profession is huge and allows us to connect with a brand new set of people. It gives a shared connection and shared experience with a common cause in mind.
I’m not a natural cyclist – but I’m getting there! I signed up to the Bike Ride in January and since then I’ve been hitting the gym in earnest and a dentist friend who also rides has kindly loaned me one of his bikes so I can get the miles in. There is a great communal feeling around the whole event with everyone coming together to help each other – I’m relishing the whole opportunity!
Read part 2 of Mark’s blog where he enlightens us with his current plans and vision for Bridge2Aid in the future – coming next week
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