My DVP Experience 4th – 18th February 2013

Posted in: Blog, by Bridge2Aid Team, on 10th October 2013 | 0 comments

By volunteer dental nurse Elaine Gaffney

I returned from Tanzania on the 18th February 2013 after completing the Dental Volunteer Programme with Bridge2Aid.

There are three words that sum up my experience throughout the whole programme “exceeded my expectations”.  I am keen to share my experiences and emotions and hopefully plant a seed for somebody else to think about giving up their time and making a difference.

I qualified as a Dental Nurse in the 90’s and have worked for the last 14 years as a Practice Manager in a large NHS practice.  During my time at the practice there have been 11 members of the team who have taken part in DVP. I helped to arrange the fund raising activities for them which did make me think about whether I would perhaps volunteer myself at some point.

I continued to consider whether I should take part but because it was such a long time since I had practiced as a nurse I did not think I would have the skills to contribute. However, when we sent out 4 team members last September I felt very envious and thought that I should give it a go. A quick phone call to Bridge2Aid was all it took to start me on my journey.

The application process was straight forward and everything was done on line; the UK Bridge2Aid staff were excellent and offered advice when needed. My interview was painless and straight forward and I soon found out that I had been accepted on the programme.

I attended an induction day in December before I went to Tanzania in February, (a must as you get to meet your fellow campers!) this gave me an insight to just what was involved within a DVP programme, and any unanswered questions were dealt with.

All I had to do now was wait for February to come around and learn Swahili! With just a couple of weeks to go the panic set in, ‘what have I done?’ as I was taking part in DVP on my own. At this point I was not looking forward to the whole experience that was waiting for me.

How wrong could I have been! I was just about to embark on a journey that would prove to be a life experience. As soon as I flew into Heathrow and met my fellow team members with whom I was about to spend the next 2 weeks, all my fears evaporated.  I was made to feel so welcome and valued by everybody and suddenly felt like I belonged to the family.

Upon arrival at Mwanza we were treated to a welcome dinner and get together with the Tanzanian Bridge2Aid team. Following orientation the next day we split into our teams – Musoma and Bukoba; and departed to what was going to be home for the next 10 days.

I was part of the Musoma Team which was extremely fortunate to have 1 nurse from Hope Dental Centre working alongside us. This demonstrates that we are leaving a sustainable legacy behind as she will go on to Phase 2 and train other Tanzania nurses for DVP.

Our accommodation in Musoma was basic but served a purpose, although the lack of water did start to become a nuisance after a few days but I survived, it just added to the whole experience of African life.

Our days consisted of early starts, long drives out to site, hot temperatures, long hours and strange packed lunches which perversely were all part of such a wonderful experience. Not to forget the African toilets!

Just arriving at site and seeing the waiting patients made me feel so proud of what we were doing, and by just saying good morning (in Swahili) to them I was rewarded by the most  amazing and grateful smiles , it brought tears to my eyes at times.

Every single patient we saw had their own story to tell and some had travelled many hours to attend the clinic. A lot of the patients had suffered excruciating and debilitating pain for years which left them not able to work and support their families. Some had even been outcast from their village as they were unable to contribute to the community. I saw lots of young children with badly decayed teeth; the list went on and on with so many incredible stories. This just made our work more important and I went to bed some nights actually knowing that we had given dignity and self-esteem back to many people. The feeling of having made a difference to so many lives was very powerful.

Although I found the stories upsetting and painful to listen to at times, I did have the most amazing time with a packet of bubbles and the waiting patients. It was not just the children who enjoyed blowing the bubbles as the village elders wanted a turn as well. We even had a nun joining in one day! It was wonderful to gain their trust and hear them laugh and I hope we brightened their day as they waited for treatment. They certainly brightened mine.

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