By Mariel Butan
A Reason To Smile, or ARTS, has completed trips to communities in Africa since 2015 to provide oral health care. Volunteer positions are open for various members of the dental team.
What do a dentist, teacher, lawyer, and graduate student all have in common? They have all volunteered with A Reason To Smile! A Reason To Smile, or ARTS, has completed three successful trips to communities in Africa since March 2015. We’ve also partnered with a local clinic in Tola, Nicaragua, to achieve our mission of providing dental treatment, education, and supplies to those without access to this vital part of health care.
During ARTS trips, volunteers work with Peace Corps Volunteers and local communities to host six days of clinics in different villages, aiming to spread dental hygiene awareness to as many people as possible, while also working to alleviate immediate dental pain. Over the course of three trips, we’ve seen over 1,500 patients and educated hundreds more.
Educating people on the importance of proper oral hygiene is paramount to ARTS. One of our guiding philosophies is that if we do our jobs right, an organisation like ours will not have to exist in the future, as communities will become healthier and develop their own systems for care. To that end, our volunteers give multiple demonstrations of proper oral hygiene techniques throughout our clinics, and we also visit schools to educate the local youths.
Each day begins the same way: Early mornings in the van as we travel to the day’s village, often enjoying a peach-colored sunrise and scanning the passing desert and fields for goats, cows, donkeys, and children on their way to school. Upon arrival, the volunteers start quickly, setting up a check-in station for the dozens of patients already waiting, fetching water to boil for instrument sterilisation, and arranging the clinic rooms to ensure an efficient workflow.
When we start seeing patients, the beauty of our surroundings and hosts is sharply contrasted with the troubling prevalence of devastating tooth decay and dental disease. The work is hard and endless, as we try to rid those suffering from their infections and teach them to how to prevent them from happening again.
While our focus is dental work, dental problems are not the only thing we see when we look at our patients. These people are from cultures so fantastic and different from our own, and we are lucky to be able to share in community lunches, view traditional dances, and be invited into the homes of those we work with. This cultural exchange is not just a relief from our work, but also an opportunity to have meaningful interactions with our neighbors abroad. All of these experiences bring the ARTS team closer to the global community and to each other.
Our trips begin with a group of volunteers, some siblings, some friends, and some complete strangers meeting at the airport, but we are connected by a common desire to help others. We complete the trip as one family, united by hours of tough yet rewarding work and cultural exchange that can only be truly understood through experience.
A Reason To Smile (ARTS) is a nonprofit organisation established to alleviate the pain and spread of dental disease by providing dental treatment, education, and supplies to those with no access to this vital component of healthcare. We are a grassroots organisation, relying primarily on individual donations and committed volunteers, and in just two years we have completed three successful trips to Africa in addition to partnering with a nonprofit clinic in Nicaragua.
ARTS is actively looking for dentists for our upcoming trip to Uganda, December 8-18, 2016, and always welcome applications from dental staff as well as non-dental professionals. During our trip, we will have six full days of dentistry, seeing a variety of ages but mostly adults. Treatment will mostly consist of extractions, helping to rid these people of emergent pain and infection; however, we would love to have a hygienist present to provide cleanings and will definitely have educators to provide dental hygiene instructions to the local students. At this time, we are especially looking for dentists to volunteer, so please spread the word! If you are interested in volunteering, contact ARTS Director of Communications and Operations Mariel Butan at firstname.lastname@example.org.