Why I Give: Dental Hygiene for Village Children in Tanzania
“Seeing the children’s faces light up as they held on tightly to their new dental tools was so heartwarming. At that moment I was so proud of our fundraising efforts and the people who helped my dream become a reality!”
This was the first testimonial from “Marvelous Maddy,” a student volunteer who raised over $6,000 worth of dental supplies for the RCP (Reaching Children’s Potential) Clinic in Ipalamwa, Tanzania. Read her fundraising story here. When she and her father, Bryan, returned home, Maddy excitingly shared her reflections on what she calls her “dream come true!”
How was this volunteer experience different from any other types of travel you’ve done before?
As a child, I was blessed having had the opportunity to travel the world with my “global trotting” parents. So this volunteer experience was something completely new and exciting to me. With regular vacations, you don’t get to experience the culture. You’re just a tourist site-seeing. When you volunteer, you experience firsthand what it’s really like to live within the community. My dad and I witnessed the African way of life. We visited places where tourists never venture. It really put things into a whole new perspective for me. I spent my days serving others instead of serving my own wanderlust ambitions. I loved the feeling of being completely involved in another culture and devoting my time to helping those in need. It was an enriching experience and I can honestly say, 100 %, that I’ll continue volunteering for Global Volunteers for many years to come.
What relationships did you form? Did any one person make a strong impression on you?
Everyone in Ipalamwa – men, women, and children – were all very friendly and appreciative of our team being there. The children were the happiest and friendliest kids I’ve ever met. In the evenings, my dad and I would take walks around the community and the kids would run up to us eager to show off their English skills and to teach us Swahili. Men and women would greet us smiling and waving. On a number of occasions, my dad and I commented on how welcomed we felt. My special friendship though, was with one of the staff members, Veronica. She is one of the smartest, nicest, most hardworking people I’ve ever met. She lives in Ipalamwa, so she was able to teach me a lot about the culture and lifestyle in the village. Dentistry and dental care were new to a lot of people, including staff, since there hadn’t been a dentist in Ipalamwa before our arrival. Veronica was keen, eager and wanted to learn everything about dentistry. We spent a lot of time together in the clinic, she worked as my translator while I recorded each patient’s medical history. She knew way more than me! I’ve never seen anyone so excited to learn before. Her enthusiasm was contagious and uplifting.
However, it wasn’t all smiles at the dental clinic! The “fear” of the dentist lives on, even far away in Ipalamwa. Three children actually ran off screaming! As for the other 145 patients we saw during the week, they were the most well-behaved and appreciative patients ever. They would come in holding their jaws in pain and leave feeling so much better. They’d shake our hands and thank us multiple times. It made us feel appreciated and very special.
What projects did you work on within the community?
I worked on several projects throughout my week in Ipalamwa. My primary service project was helping the health care staff and volunteer dentists in the clinic, and ensuring a speedy patient flow. I screened patients before they entered the surgery (with the superb help of Veronica) and assisted my father Bryan and the other volunteer dentist, Nelson, when they needed an extra pair of hands. In total, we saw 148 patients and extracted 347 teeth over the course of five days. That’s an average of 30 people a day and 2.6 teeth per person! However, there were numerous cases of individuals needing 4 to 7 teeth pulled. One 12-year-old boy, in particular, needed 11 teeth pulled. Ten were his permanent teeth. I wondered how on earth he was supposed to eat! It broke my heart. It was cases like that, which left me crying on multiple occasions during my time at the clinic.
Aside from my dental duties, I also went on two home visits with the RCP caregivers. These were not only eye-opening experiences but also rewarding projects because I got to converse with the families in the RCP program. Many of the mothers mentioned that the hand-washing stations installed by previous teams had, in fact, decreased the incidents of diarrhea in their children drastically and the porridge they had received had been a tremendous help too.
But I must confess, my favorite project was spending a morning in the kindergarten classroom teaching the kids about oral healthcare and how to brush their teeth. We had so much fun! As they were given their porridge and ready to go home, I handed each of them their very own toothbrush and toothpaste. It was the moment I had been dreaming of for months. To see the children’s faces as they held tightly to their new dental tools was so heartwarming. I was so proud of our fundraising efforts and the people who helped my dream become a reality.
Do you think you made a real difference on your service program?
Definitely! Everyone in the world deserves to live the happiest and healthiest lives they can. Heck, we only have one life, remember! As a future dental student and dentist, I wanted to share my knowledge of oral health and how it is so important for our overall health. The mouth is the gateway to the body for diseases and parasites. I wanted to give these people the opportunity to have a “weapon” against those diseases and parasites (a toothbrush) so they could decrease their chances of becoming sick and increase their quality of life. Until we arrived they’d had no access to this knowledge. Since I ‘m not a certified dentist yet, I couldn’t extract painful teeth, as my dad did, but I helped in my own way and that was just as fulfilling.
What has the Ipalamwa service program meant to you?
It’s completely changed my life and my way of thinking. The whole experience was way better than I could ever have imagined. The people, the volunteers, and staff were some of the nicest, most good-hearted people I’ve ever met. Everyone was eager to make a change in the community and willing to do whatever was asked of them. It was an honor and a blessing to have served with them! Volunteering in Ipalamwa created the opportunity for me to engage in the Tanzanian culture and interact with its people. Everyone was so friendly inviting us into their homes and allowing us to help. Of course, we did try our best to learn a little Swahili. The villagers seemed to like that. Their smiles grew a little bit bigger when we tried! My heart and mind have forever been changed, molded by the people of Ipalamwa. The whole experience has shown me that I have the right, and the power to do so, to make a difference in this world.
“To see the children’s faces as they held tightly to their new dental tools was so heartwarming. I was so proud of our fundraising efforts and to the people who helped my dream become a reality.”– Maddy Aungst
Do you think you could’ve had the same experience at home with your dad?
Absolutely not. I’ve visited my dad’s dental office multiple times to assist him, but it has been nothing compared to what we experienced in Ipalamwa. Our week in Tanzania changed both of us, for the better. We are now closer than we were before. I truly appreciate his work and recognize what an amazing dentist he really is and I’m also so thankful to have a dad that I can travel and enjoy life with.
What did you learn about yourself through this experience?
“You have the power to change the world” is a comment that everyone has heard at least once in their lifetime. For me, it always went in one ear and out the other. How could I change the world? I’m just one person. At least that’s what I thought. However, after my experience in Ipalamwa with Global Volunteers, I no longer think that way. I did make a difference. I did make a change to the lives of those in Ipalamwa (even if it’s only a small change). Bryan, Nelson, myself, and future Global Volunteers will continue to improve oral hygiene in Tanzania. It’s a lot easier to “change the world” when you have a strong, supportive, and motivated group of people behind you.
How have you described your experience to friends and family since you’ve returned home?
It’s been extremely difficult to convey my experience to family and friends. The emotions and experiences were just indescribable. The reality of the whole journey is difficult to put into words. It was emotionally and mentally challenging for us both – but rewarding at the same time.
What’s your advice to people who may be considering volunteering with Global Volunteers?
My advice is DO IT! GET OUT THERE AND SEE THE WORLD! I was nervous about traveling across the globe to a remote village for a week, but it turned out to be the most memorable and amazing trip I’ve ever had. It really opens your eyes as you immerse in the culture. It makes you realize how much we really do take for granted in the United States – especially education and healthcare.
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