Joanne’s African adventure

05 January, 2015

Joanne Shepherd from Kirriemuir spent two weeks abroad after signing up as a volunteer with Dentaid.

The fortnight was an eye-opener in more ways than one and the 24-year-old even witnessed people brushing their teeth using sticks.

Joanne said: “We did eight clinics in a mixture of different places. We did one in a children’s prison for kids aged six months to 18 years, but most of the children were there because their parents couldn’t afford them or just due to difficulties at home. About 95 per cent of them hadn’t actually committed a crime, which was eye-opening. We also did a clinic at a local church and in a refugee camp. We were having to set up in a variety of places using tents, so it was just anywhere we could find shelter.”

During Joanne’s second week in Uganda, she was based in a more rural area and found that the oral health wasn’t quite as good as in the first week.

She said: “I think it really depends on the way they’ve been brought up – for example, if their parents have looked after their teeth and then passed that habit on to them.

“Being a therapist, I was mainly doing children’s teeth and carried out predominantly deciduous extractions and also gross hand scaling and polishing and simple fillings. The second week, we were in an area where there was more sugar cane, so there was a lot more decay in the children’s teeth.”

Many people in parts of Uganda don’t have access to toothbrushes or toothpaste and so they use sticks to brush their teeth. They do this by peeling off the bark and then chewing on the end until the wood splays out like bristles. But Joanne warns that you obviously have to be more careful than when you’re using a toothbrush!

Not only has Joanne improved the oral health of several Ugandans, she has also raised a huge amount of cash along the way.

Her fundraising efforts included climbing Ben Nevis and, after removing £2,000 to cover the cost of the trip, she was able to donate a whopping £1,748.02 to Dentaid.

And she hopes she can do the same again in the future.

She added: “I would definitely go back. I wanted to stay for longer. It’s a lot more basic than here, but the challenge of it was quite exciting because you didn’t have any electricity or anything. It’s amazing how you just get used to it, though. It was strange to come back and have everything at your fingertips in a surgery.

“It’s been a worthwhile experience and I’m glad I did it. Hopefully in two or three years, I’ll go back again and see some improvements.”

Joanne graduated from Dundee University in 2011 and now works for both Blairgowrie Dental Care and Colin Yule and Associates in Forfar.

Tags: Charity

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