Another anniversary

Posted in: Blog, by kayleighb2a, on 6th January 2014 | 0 comments

Mark Topley, CEO

Happy New Year to all!

Today is the 8th anniversary of the day Jo and I first moved to live in Tanzania. On 6th January 2006, we landed and ate a bleary eyed dinner at Tilapia Hotel with our good friends and founders of Bridge2Aid, Ian and Andie Wilson. We were so happy to be together, to start work in earnest on what has become our life since we first came to Tanzania.

The years seem to have flown by. This year it will be 3 years since the Wilsons relocated to the UK with their family, and in October, we will be celebrating 10 years since the first Dental Volunteer Programme (DVP) and the opening of Hope Dental Centre. It’s a significant anniversary year for us all.

Tonight I’ll be having dinner to celebrate surviving(!) with my wonderful wife. No doubt we’ll reflect on the past 10 years and how on earth we got ourselves into this…

We’ll have some huge achievements to look back on, all made possible by the volunteers, donors and amazing Bridge2Aid team both in the UK and Tanzania.

We’ve established the DVP and successfully trained 282 Health Workers, resulting in access to emergency dentistry to almost 3 million people living in the rural areas of Tanzanian and Rwanda.

We completely renovated Bukumbi Care Centre, home to around 150 People affected by Leprosy and disabled people, providing a clean and safe living environment, and getting them on a track to long term development.

And we have shown that a dental clinic can operate in a developing country and generate sufficient profit to fund significant proportion of the operating costs of the organisation. Hope Dental Centre has generated hundreds of thousands of pounds for Bridge2Aid since 2004.

On the personal front, it’s been an adventure living in Tanzania. 2 weeks after we arrived, the power supply hit a snag which resulted in 12 hours a day rationing from February to October, which then increased to 18 hours of no power between November and December. My goodness where we glad of the rains that year to restore the hydro-electric dams (even though it meant a sodden Christmas). There have been many other ups and downs, minor car crashes, midnight flooding and discovering the stop-cock was disconnected, snakes, spiders, scorpions and more than one army of biting ants marching through the house.

MT blog Jan 6th 2014There has also been huge joy in  growing our family with our 3 children, the battle to get them adopted (with one still to go), the benefits and drawbacks of a lifestyle here – no it isn’t always sunny (but it is a lot), the limitations of opportunities for the kids, but many other life lessons for them and wonderful other opportunities (how many children in the UK get to go to the Serengeti for the weekend?).

There  has been homesickness, missing family, the pain of losing loved ones when you are living 4,500 miles away and not able to just get there. We’ve missed friends, the pub, a  newspaper, and anonymous walks through the countryside on a wet and windy day –  always the simple things.

So how would I sum it up?

A roller coaster, for sure.

Enormous highs, deep lows and endless frustrations. But also great joy.

So what keeps us here?

For me, the commitment remains the same. It was the shock in the early days of the unaddressed scale of the problem of untreated dental pain, and the lack of help available, and the lack of concerted action to tackle it. We saw an opportunity to help.

Although my understanding has deepened, and my rose tinted glasses removed a long time ago, there remains a deep commitment.

I’ve written extensively about this before, so I won’t repeat myself in full, but to summarise:

Dental caries is the world’s most common disease. It causes untold pain and suffering and huge economic cost. With so many links to general health, the economic impact and the sheer humanitarian agony being caused, my question remains: ‘Why is there so little action?’

This pain is simple to relieve, and in relieving pain we provide an opportunity to educate and prevent future problems. As an organisation, a small group of committed and passionate individuals, we have shown that training to provide sustainable local access to dental pain relief is possible and effective.

This Bridge2Aid family are among the only ones targeting pain and prevention. Whilst many others focus on doing the same thing (offering western dentistry in a developing country) and equipping dentists based in cities (which is valid), our focus has always been and will continue to be on the millions of others excluded by geography with this kind of approach.

Starting our ninth year in country – that is what is at the forefront of my mind. How do we do more? How do we show people this is an issue? For the billions without a voice who continue to suffer, that’s what we need to do.

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