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Catherine Sherlock - Dental Volunteering in Nepal

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Catherine Sherlock - Dental Volunteering in Nepal

Catherine spent two weeks volunteering in Nepal during 2012 with some of her friends, where they set up a dental camp which provided free dental care to rural communities that had little or no access to dentists before.

Here Catherine tells us about her experience and how it made a real difference to the people screened and treated. "I had been looking forward to being able to volunteer abroad and offer dental care to vulnerable individuals ever since I had started my career in dentistry! I couldn't wait to go somewhere completely new and experience dentistry in another country, experience the culture differences and hopefully make a difference to people's lives!

I travelled to Nepal with five other friends. We decided to travel around Nepal before we started the dental volunteering as we felt we could acclimatise in this period, getting used to the weather and the Nepalese way of life, including transport and trying to pick up some of the local language! We travelled to the capital, Kathmandu, before going to Chitwan National Park to experience jungle life and then finally to Pokhara.

We arrived at a hostel, called Sacred Valley Inn, on the lakeside of Lake Phewa in Pokhara. Here we met four other volunteers who were also participating in the dental camp project. It was nice to see some other familiar faces! We also met two members of the volunteering team and our Nepalese coordinator Basanta, who would accompany us for the duration of two weeks whilst we were volunteering.

The following morning we were up early to travel to our accommodation. This was situated on the top of a hill about 1400m above sea level. The walk took approximately 1hour and 40 minutes and was very strenuous, involving climbing thousands of steep steps. We didn't know if we would ever make it to the top! The difficult terrain was not the only problem. It was monsoon season (100% humidity with flash downpours). We were all so proud of ourselves when we reached the top! It was well worth the walk though as the volunteers accommodation had fantastic views of the Himalayas and the village of Pokhara, which was situated in a valley. We could not have asked for better! The rooms comprised of double lodges or tents, which all had ensuite outdoor showers, covered by a tin roof. Needless to say, it also housed a lot of unwelcome wildlife visitors! The food consisted mainly of eggs for breakfast and pastas for dinner interspersed with the occasional local dish, including Dal Baht and local curries.

We had been situated in the village of Pumdi Bhumdi. This was a 30 minute trek away from our accommodation. We set up our dental camp in a local school in the village. Our volunteering organisation provided us with portable dental chairs and units, including drills. An average day would start at 9am and last until around 4.30pm. On the first day the volunteers were greeted by the local youth club who were helping out for the next two weeks. They helped to set up dental equipment, organised the patients and acted as translators. We operated in two rooms in the school; one was a screening room, where patients would be examined to determine their dental needs. We assessed them and filled out a treatment plan, which the patient were asked to take to the treatment room. The treatment consisted largely of filling decayed, but saveable teeth, or extracting those of hopeless prognosis. If more complex treatment was required, for example root canal treatment, we could refer patients to the local hospital in Pokhara. The ten of us were split into pairs and we rotated each morning and afternoon between the screening and treatment rooms.

Within the pairs, one volunteer would screen/treat and one would nurse. We swapped after every patient. In total, we treated over 800 patients. Some patients travelled over three hours by foot to visit the camp. Not only did we treat their dental pain, we aimed to treat all dental disease in order to stabilise the patient's oral health and prevent them suffering from dental pain in the future. Two local Nepalese dentists who worked together in hospital checked our work. They ensured that we provided optimal dental care to patients, which would be effective and long lasting. One of the most important aspects of our trip was promoting oral hygiene to allow the local population to improve their dental health themselves and reduce future dental disease. After each patient we screened, we reinforced how best to brush their teeth, providing toothbrushes and toothpastes to those who required them. We saw patients of all ages and my confidence in treating patients really increased!!

We had already seen the main sites of Pokhara during the week preceding our elective, so during our middle weekend we travelled down to the main village of Pokhara and spent a night in a hotel in the middle of Lake Phewa called Fish Tail Lodge. We were able to spend the weekend relaxing and enjoying the surprisingly sunny weather!

After volunteering, we travelled back to Kathmandu for a well-deserved rest, where we enjoyed our final days in Nepal in luxury in the Hyatt Regency hotel and travelled to an adventure centre on the Tibetan border where I tried canyoning and a bungee jump!

I absolutely loved my time in Nepal! It was an amazing experience, from both a learning and social perspective. I really enjoyed my time there, it was a real eye-opener and I would recommend volunteering in Nepal to anyone! I would love to do something similar in the future"!

Catherine Sherlock

Find out more about Work the World's Dental Outreach projects here:


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