“We see up to 40 people a day who have walked for 2-3 days to get to us.”
Drayton Dental’s hygienist Chloe Brotherhood has spent the last three October half terms providing vital dental treatment to the Massai people in Olorte, Kenya. Here she writes about her experiences.
My husband works with a man called Fadi, who has a small charity called Starfish Clinic project International, which was set up to help fund vital medical treatment for the Massai people in Olorte, Kenya. Our trip in 2016 was the first time a dental team had visited and certainly the first time any of the people had experienced proper dental care. We have taught a lady called Florence how to diagnose, give local anaesthetic, fill, extract and clean teeth so that she can continue to treat when we are not there.
It is an utterly incredible experience. We see up to 30-40 people a day who have walked for 2-3 days to get to us. The majority of people needed teeth extracted due to decay or infection. It can be very busy, I mainly nurse for the 3 dentists working, preparing the local anaesthetics, mixing filling materials, cleaning instruments and holding torches so we can see – there are no overhead lights or dental chairs there, just a wooden seat or a step for the patient to sit on! We do have a basic dental seat now though.
We would give the patient their dental mirror to hold and would catch them trying to look at their reflection in the mirror! Trying to explain how their face would feel with the local anaesthetic was difficult, as well as asking the patient to open wide and keep wide open too!
The Maasai people have only ever experienced having troublesome teeth removed with a pen knife from a witch doctor before. Traditionally, their lower front central teeth are removed with a pen knife in case they are ever unable to feed themselves, thus can be fed through the gap.
We tried to educate whilst we treated, explaining that high sugar causes the decay and pain they have. We went to the school and taught the children about sugar, decay and cleaning their teeth. Initially we were surprised at how little decay was present in the children’s teeth but unfortunately this appears to be steadily increasing.
The children are just wonderful, they soak up information and are so eager to learn! All of the Maasai use a twig from the ‘tooth brush tree’ to clean their teeth, and you’re almost guaranteed to see someone walking along with one of these cleaning their teeth.
I think one of the things that surprised us most was how image conscious the Maasai can be! We had more requests this year for front teeth, which had been chipped, to be repaired. I was also asked to do a lot more cleaning too, as the high quantity of chai tea consumed means there is a lot of staining.
The saddest part of our trip is seeing how poorly regarded the women are. Young girls and women are sent to collect extremely heavy loads of wood and water every day and repair the mud used on the roofs of their huts if it is raining. This year the women who went spoke to the school children about how important women are and what they can achieve, explaining the importance of their education and exam results.
My husband and I are going to sponsor a girl called Mary who has just sat her exams to go to college. Mary walks 15 kilometres a day to school and wants to be a teacher. Her family are incredibly poor and it will cost £600 a year to get her through 2 years of training to achieve her dream. Mary will have to go to a college, which is chosen for her and will be several 100 miles away from her home. Mary will need to provide her bedding and stationary herself, which we will help her with.
When we saw her Mary was about to walk to the market to buy pencils for her exams. She was going to sit her exams the next day with the rest of her friends. The exams are taken under armed guard to prevent cheating. Mary has nothing, but she walked 15k to see Nami and I to give us a beaded bracelet and the biggest smile and hug, even though she still doesn’t know that we have offered to sponsor her.
I have to say these trips have been the most humbling, incredible and most emotional experiences I have ever had. These people have nothing but give you everything. They appreciate every little thing in life and this is infectious. The poverty is shocking but they want to better themselves and are so eager to learn. We go out there to teach so that they can learn to help themselves and not just expect everything to be given to them. They also never complain because they know you are just trying to help them as much as you can.
The world we live in now has such high expectations and demands that we just lose sight of the small things which actually matter. If everyone could have this experience just once in their lives I feel it would make us appreciate ourselves and each other and what we do have so much more.
If you would like to find out more or offer any support to Chloe, please contact us.