Back to basics

Posted in: Blog, by Bridge2Aid Team, on 29th January 2018 | 0 comments

So I open Facebook one evening to check on the world, to find my husband has “posted” (a rare event). There’s a photo of him holding a very small baby, wishing every day could start like that, and recalling a time when our two teenagers were that small. Apart from the shock of seeing him being quite so soppy in public, it was a welcome reminder of where he is and what he’s up to.

I ‘hearted’ the photo, of course.

Phil is back over in Tanzania, working on one of our training programmes. He’s been several times over the past 11 years, and comes back each time excited, energetic (and exhausted!) and re-enthused – both about the work of Bridge2Aid, and his own clinical work in the UK. Although our visits sometimes coincide, usually when I’m there I’m on my own working in our office with the Bridge2Aid Tanzania team, and don’t often get to see the programmes first-hand anymore

This time he’s leading one of our Phase Two programmes, one of our key advances in helping the country develop a sustainable emergency dental provision.

Phase One is our regular programme; we organise volunteer dentists, therapists, hygienists and nurses to travel to East Africa for ten days, to train local health workers (Clinical Officers) in emergency dentistry, oral health education, and infection control. Phase Two steps the programme up towards our eventual goal, which is to be in a position to hand over to the country’s Health Service to continue the training, supported by us. On Phil’s trip, our volunteers are training Regional Dental Officers (RDOs) to train their own local Clinical Officers. Standing alongside their Tanzanian dental colleagues, making this difference to the lives of people in rural communities brings an added dimension to this trip, and an experience that the volunteers won’t forget.

Phil also got the opportunity to visit the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Dar Es Salaam with Paul to meet with Frank Jack Mwakatobe – the current President of the Tanzanian Dental Association. This was a very positive meeting, and gave them the opportunity to explore ways of working more closely with our dental friends in the country.

Of course, while one of us is away in Africa, we try to stay in contact but that’s not always easy. While the urban areas are developing very quickly, with 3(and 4)g mobile networks, smartphones in much evidence and wi-fi in some public places, that’s not the case in rural areas. We can go for days without any contact apart from the local team’s reports back to base so it was a bit of a surprise to see he’d found some internet – and had chosen to post on Facebook!

Phil was holding the baby while mum was being checked over by a Clinical Officer, supervised by Phil’s trainee RDO. The training is carried out in rural areas, where there is no dental provision at all, and the patients come from local villages all around. Some walk for hours and hours to get to us; many have been in pain for many years and unable to work, go to school, or look after their family. Others have used DIY methods to try to stop the pain and are in really bad condition. So our volunteer dentists get to help hundreds of people out of pain while training Clinical Officers to go on doing so after they have flown home. In Phase Two they go further, leaving behind a network of RDOs capable of continuing the training after they have left.

Which is why Phil has returned many times; he’s proud to have given his trainee RDO the skills he needs to go on training new Clinical Officers to be able to look after their communities.

And yes, I did check his suitcase when he got back to make sure there were no little additions to the family.


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