Who do you think you are?

Posted in: Blog, by sheanna, on 20th October 2015 | Comments Off on Who do you think you are?

One of my lasting memories of working in Tanzania is from the early days of establishing the Bridge2Aid emergency dental training programme.

As was common in those days, I was often involved in driving along with Dr Samuel Kalongoji, the District Dental Officer in Magu to visit potential locations for training the local health workers. As is common in developing countries, the majority of the population lives in remote rural areas, and so these drives took us a long way off the beaten track.

On this particular day we drove high into the hills above the shores of Lake Victoria’s southern coastline, to a village called Buhumbi. After picking up Samuel on the way, we drove for another 2 hours before arriving around 10am at the small dispensary – just a couple of cement block buildings on the outskirts of the one street village

We were greeted as usual by the Clinical Officer in charge, and asked to sign the visitor’s book (a standard courtesy across Tanzania from rural dispensary to Ministerial office). Chatting to the Clinical Officer, who looked tired, Samuel asked him about how things were going. It turned out the reason for the Clinical Officer’s tiredness was an all night delivery the previous evening. Mother and baby were doing OK, but it had been a difficult procedure.


It’s worth reflecting on the role these Clinical Officers have. Trained in basic medicine for 3 years, they are then deployed as the sole medically qualified person in a remote community of around 10,000 people. What this translates to in practice is they are the ones who will deliver babies at all hours of the night, diagnose and treat malaria, set broken limbs and deal with some very traumatic injuries caused by accident and disagreement – all done with no support, and a long journey from the nearest hospital.

This is what led me to start describing the Clinical Officers we work with as local heroes. Because it’s how I see them – working largely alone and under resourced in remote areas, serving their communities capably and calmly at all hours of the day and night. It is a privilege to be able to serve them by giving them a skill which will transform quality of life and prevent dangerous complications for the hundreds of patients who come to them for help with urgent dental problems.


But for me the whole Bridge2Aid community – our members in East Africa and the UK – is full of heroes. Because our volunteers and fundraisers are heroes too. In fact anyone who gives their time and money, their commitment, who sacrifices to help others is a local hero for me. Through the ways that they give, the example that they set, often at great personal cost, they become a person to look up to, a role model within the profession. This becomes particularly potent with Bridge2Aid because the volunteers and supporters who are part of our community are bringing long term transformation to the communities we serve in East Africa. I am particularly proud of what our newest Patron, Hon Professor Mwakyusa, the former Minister of Health in Tanzania has to say about us:

‘Bridge2Aid is a charity that I have witnessed making a tangible, long-term change in the health infrastructure in Tanzania. By training rural health workers in emergency dentistry skills Bridge2Aid is empowering local communities and by so doing making a difference.’

I know that for some of our community this may feel uncomfortable – to be called a hero, when what they do is for wholly altruistic reasons. But when you listen to how I hear colleagues and patients, and others in the industry talk about what our volunteers do – the sacrifice, the time and money, the challenges of working in tough clinical environments and training someone to perform extractions safely in just 8 days – that makes them a hero in my eyes, and I am sure in the eyes of beneficiaries in East Africa.

This week we will once again be at the BDIA Dental Showcase in Birmingham. It’s a million miles from the shores of Lake Victoria, and the pain and suffering the people endure on a daily basis for want of simple treatment we take for granted here. But it is from this event that I know we’ll meet many people who will be Bridge2Aid local heroes in the future.  I talk to so many people who want to use their skills, their money, their time, to make a genuine, long term difference, and as an organisation we are very much the ‘bridge’ to that opportunity. If you’d like to join us and become part of this international community committed to long term change, come and talk to us on Stand M65b. We’d love to see you.

Mark Topley – CEO

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