Under the hood

Posted in: Blog, by Mark Topley, on 17th February 2015 | Comments Off on Under the hood


Last week I took the day to visit one of the Dental Volunteer Programme Training teams working with us for 2 weeks.

It’s something I find rewarding, exhausting and heartbreaking, even after 10 years. And this day was no exception. It was however fantastic to have our God-Daughter Grace with me. Grace is living with us for 3 months in her pre-Uni Gap Year and having a great time.

We travelled what should have been 3 hours south-west of Mwanza, but because of the erratic ferry at Busisi at the moment, which you need to cross Mwanza Sound, turned into 5 and a half. There was a good 2 hours drive after the ferry, rattling down 80 miles of pot-holed roads that took us further and further away from urban civilisation through countless small rural communities. Eventually we arrived at Ny’angwale Health Centre – the main medical facility for over 15,000 people.

It reminded me of one of our first ever training centres – Kabila – a village around 2 hours from my home in Mwanza. Remote, poor, beautiful, and serving a very large number of people. I guess I am reflecting more on the early days now that a move back to the UK (but not a change of job) is only a few months away. I’m certainly entering that period of mixed feelings that comes as you approach your departure as an Expat. Those who have gone before will identify – it’s a mixture of pride and sadness.

IMG_6988Pride was definitely the dominant emotion when we arrived on site. Everything working like clockwork, both the volunteer team and our Bridge2Aid guys doing an amazing job, and already a big number of patients seen. They had decided to close off at 80 patients today (the second of four at this centre) to focus on the training of the local Health Workers.

Entering the clinic, I met the Medical Officer in charge, who thanked me profusely for sending the team.’There are so many people suffering in this area because of dental problems’ he said. The queue outside and the looks on their faces bore testament to his words.

The Clinical Lead, Brian, reported they had received visits from the main sponsors of this programme (and the one in Tarime), Acacia Mining, whose Bulyanhulu Mine is nearby. My thanks once again to Acacia for continuing to fund our work – we could not do it without them. As well as these guests, various government officials had also visited. The overwhelming feedback from our visitors – everyone is very impressed and delighted we are here.

Seeing DVP in action is a wonderful sight. A team that met each other only 2 days ago working together like they do this every week of the year. People having their pain relieved and leaving the clinic with huge gratitude on their faces, finally free of the suffering that will have lasted months.

But for this to IMG_6982happen – there is an incredible amount of work that goes into a DVP.

Things have changed a great deal from those first programmes in places like Kabila.

Although essentially we still do the same thing, the development of the programme, the numbers that we run each year, and the rolling organisation required to simultaneously prepare for 8-9 programmes all at different stages of planning, and follow up on an equal number, in far flung parts of what is a massive country, is enormous. There is a huge amount of work that goes into making each programme a success (96% pass rate last year), and that level of detail is just what achieves it, and ensures volunteers come back again and again (see my last post).

We recently sat down and wrote out a summary of all the things that happen for a DVP to communicate to donors just what an undertaking one programme is. There is a mind-boggling series of things that the team do in Tanzania and the UK to produce a 96% pass rate and a 95% volunteer satisfaction level.

For example, just one job in the packing stage (a stage which takes days to complete) is to identify the glove size of each volunteer trainer and nurse, each trainee clinical officer, and the Bridge2Aid team who also wear gloves in clinic, calculate the approximate number each person will need for 9 days, and pack the appropriate number in the boxes. We’re 5 hours from town – we cant afford to run out. Bear in mind that there is a 100-odd stage checklist for each DVP you get the idea of how much is involved!

What this means is that 10 years after we started, although the DVP looks the same, what is ‘under the hood’ is very, very different. More co-ordination, a bigger team, greater distances and the resources to support it all are essential to maintain the same high levels of impact for the community that we have always aimed for. It’s great to see it working so well.

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