Day 4 – Thursday 23rd Feb
Today we spent the day in Mwanza, Bridge2Aid’s Tanzania base. We began with visits to some of the regional officials with whom Bridge2Aid have worked over the past 11 years. After visiting the Regional Medical Officer we were accompanied by the Regional Dental Officer to meet the Regional Administrative Secretary – the second in command for all the regional government’s activities. After setting out the achievements to date and how B2A have now expanded their work across the country from Mwanza, the discussion moved on to plans for the future and the continuing partnership of Bridge2Aid and the local government. Being able to watch these meetings illustrates the differences in culture, as well as the patience and endeavour that the team have put into the projects to get as far as they have.
Next stop was a tour of Hope Dental Centre, B2A’s social enterprise dental clinic, which charges fees to patients and puts all it’s profits into the operating costs of the charity, to enable the team to train more clinical officers to provide emergency dental care to the rural areas. We toured the site with Ian Stephens, who explained how the industry’s huge support had been put to use. It was fantastic to see how a modern well-run dental practice manages not just to survive, but thrive in the relatively harsh conditions in Tanzania. Seeing the way the team had overcome the problems of power, heat, equipment failure and lack of lab work, again, just shows anything is possible if you want and believe it is, and these people are prepared to find a way.
Finally, we met staff at Bridge2Aid’s offices – Jackie and Joyce, who manage Operations and Programmes respectively, and Jacqueline who is the organisation’s Administrator. We met many of the remaining team later in the day, when they returned from the rural areas where they had been working on training programmes with the two current teams of volunteers.
The passion and commitment to the organisation from the Bridge2Aid volunteers and the clinical officers has been inspiring. Bridge2Aid has now trained four hundred clinical officers, all treating an average of one to two hundred patients a year. This means that tens of thousands of Tanzanians are no longer living with debilitating dental pain on a yearly basis.
This sounds like a great success and it is in many ways, but it has only got to this level by the commitment and hard work of a fairly small group of dedicated staff and volunteers. Everyone here in the Bridge2Aid team still know that they have only just scratched the surface of the difficulties for the millions of Tanzanians that live in the rural areas surrounding Mwanza, and the rest of the country.
After spending the afternoon looking around Mwanza we finished the day and the trip by joining the returning volunteer teams for dinner. Heading home tomorrow (26/2/16) at 3am UK time (6am local) we will be back in the UK in 28 hours (27/2/16)_
This trip has totally reinforced my initial feelings that it is such a worthy cause to support, and it is astonishing what has been achieved with relatively low amounts of funding. Every pound raised or donated can and will have an effect on a life in Tanzania. Please help support this inspiring group of people, who continue to make a difference in a part of the world that needs this vital service which we take for granted in the UK.
Day 3 – Wednesday 24th Feb
What a view to wake up to, Lake Victoria in all its splendour. We are just heading out to Kasamwa, which is a 3 hour drive to where a group of British dentists are training local clinical staff to provide basic dentistry to relieve pain. We will see patients today living day to day with what we all know can be crippling dental pain. These services are something we really take for granted in the UK.
We left at 6am GMT for the 3 hour drive to Kasamwa in Geita District, where one of the two teams that are here at the moment are training and treating. The drive took us through areas where Bridge2Aid (B2A) have trained extensively over the past 11 years and where access to Emergency Dental Treatment is now provided 365 days a year by the local health workers trained by the fantastic Bridge2Aid.
We arrived in Kasamwa dental clinic faced with 99 patients registered for extractions, with more arriving as word spread, all of which will be completed by the clinical staff trained this week by the Bridge2Aid team of British dentists. We met with the Site Clinical Lead, an experienced dentist with several trips under his belt who is leading the clinical team on this programme.
Having worked with other charities in the past, the sustainable and training nature of B2A’s approach first attracted him and has kept him firmly committed ever since.
An 86-year-old man walked 4 hours this morning to come to the Kasamwa dental clinic to have his dental pain looked at. He arrived by 8:30am and was seen first thing. He had been in dental pain for 2 years!
He had a tooth extracted and is now walking the 4 miles back home, we hope with a smile on his face, and in a few days he will no longer be in pain. It really does put things into perspective.
The patients, some clearly in pain and discomfort, were themselves immensely patient and grateful for the treatment they had or were about to receive. For a patient to have chronic dental pain and to be able to relieve it must have a dramatic effect on the quality of their lives
That 86-year old man’s life has been changed so positively from the basic dental care that Bridge2Aid enable the local clinical staff to deliver. A very humbling morning!
Later in the day we spent several hours touring the clinic and talking to volunteers, Health Workers (the trainees), and the local government dentist.
The team spirit, respect and closeness of the volunteers was clear to see. The way they supported each other and the Clinical officers was amazing. How they run such an efficient clinic in such an environment is astonishing and clearly a testament to the quality of the people and the process you have put in place. The way they look after each other to be safe clearly came through even in a challenging environment
We viewed the treatment in progress, all performed today by the Health Workers, all of whom have passed the 9-day course, and coached by the training dentists who started work with them just last week.
We saw the sterilisation processes used and taught to the Health Workers, and heard an Oral Health education talk given to the group of waiting patients by one of the Health Workers
The word that keeps coming to my mind is quality. That may seem a strange thing to say in such circumstances but let me explain why that is. There is little more you can do but to relieve pain and further infection in most of the cases the team see .The quality of care for these patients in such an environment is truly mind blowing. From the booking in process, sterilisation process, patient care, and the training (which is the most important and which means it has the opportunity to be sustainable) is incredible in such an environment. To see all 6 clinical officers today taking charge of all of the clinical work shows what can be achieved with the right mindset and people. A truly inspiring day in so many ways and one that has inspired me to train and fundraise hard for our bike ride, and to be able to help and enable B2A to continue with this amazing and much-needed work.
Tomorrow we will spend the day in Mwanza visiting local officials with whom B2A have worked with over the past 11 years, Hope Dental Centre (B2A’s social enterprise dental clinic) and meet the B2A team based there.
Day 2 – Tuesday 23rd Feb
An amazing sunrise as we come into land in Dubai to get our connecting flight to Dar Es Salaam to see the great work Bridge2Aid have been doing in Tanzania. Big thanks to all the Straumann customers that have helped fundraise for this very worthy cause. Really looking forward to seeing the training and care that Bridge2Aid provide to the people of Tanzania.
When we arrived in Dar Es Salaam we were met by Mark Topley, CEO at Bridge2Aid. Mark has lived and worked in Tanzania for 10 years before returning to the UK 12 months ago. He led us to the “Flamingo Lounge” where we grabbed some snacks and a drink before checking in for our next flight onto Mwanza. Here we are waiting for our last flight to get to Mwanza to meet the Bridge2Aid team.
We arrived in Mwanza after about 14 hours of travelling and 3 planes. We had a good journey and are now relaxing and getting ready for our visit out to the programme tomorrow (24/02/16)
Day 1 – Monday 22nd Feb
At Heathrow, just about to start the first leg of our journey to Tanzania to see how this group of customers have supported Bridge2Aid by raising money by riding 500 miles through 5 countries in 5 days. Looking forward to our next challenge in September riding from the Med coast France to Atlantic coast Spain across the Pyrenees to raise more money to help the local Tanzania population access basic dentistry.
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