HANCEVILLE, Ala. — Dental Hygiene students from Wallace State Community College embarked on an international service learning trip to Kenya earlier this semester where they worked as part of a global health outreach team providing dental care to scores of patients, many of whom were receiving dental care for the first time.
This was the first dental hygiene team to serve in the Kenya Relief clinic. And the need for the service was immediately apparent.
Dr. Teresa Ray, dentist and instructor, said they spent three and a half days working in the clinic. The first day they arrived, she said patients were lined up outside the clinic, many arriving before dawn to get in line.
“There were small children running about, women wrapped in traditional Maasi blankets, and elderly men with swollen faces,” Dr. Ray said.
Dental student Casie Hall described one patient she worked with while assisting Dr. Ray. The man had an abscess the size of a marble, and the infected tooth kept breaking up as they removed it. He needed more work than could be done that day, but “the man was very grateful for what we did and did not complain one single time throughout the procedure,” Hall said.
Another patient, who had a such a large buildup of calculus on her teeth that her posterior molars were no long available, repeatedly told Hall “asante sana,” meaning thank you, very much,” after she completed the cleaning and let her see the results.
With their patients lying on hospital beds, the students stood over them to clean their teeth. “We worked through sore backs, sinus infections, power outages, and never felt more satisfaction or personal reward,” Dr. Ray said.
The experience was eye-opening for all of them and one that was rewarding on both professional and personal levels.
“In 40 years of dentistry, this was the most gratifying experience of my career,” said Kathy Coy, Dental Hygiene instructor.
The students felt the same.
“I went on this mission trip hoping to make a change for the people of Kenya, however, they made a greater change in me,” Hall said. “My heart is forever changed by this experience,” Hall said.
Drakken James said she was “extremely happy and blessed” to be a part of the outreach team.
“Seeing the love and appreciation from our patients every day we were in clinic was my favorite part of the whole trip,” James said. “To think that I was able to actually help these patients and care for them simply by cleaning their teeth made me extremely happy and blessed to be a part of something bigger than myself.”
Elizabeth Vinson said, “This amazing experience cannot be accurately expressed through words or even pictures. I’m still finding myself changing and learning from the things I experienced on this trip.
“The people of Migori, Kenya, taught me so much more than dentistry. They taught me true patience, humility, and appreciation,” Vinson added. “I will forever be changed by these people and this place.”
Like her classmates, Jenny Barber mentioned how she learned to adapt to new situations. “At the clinic, we were put into situations that we had never been in,” she said. “Some patients had more buildup on their teeth than I have ever seen in a textbook. We didn’t have the tools to remove it quickly and easily like we would have in a regular dental clinic, so I got to practice how to most effectively remove the deposits with the instruments I had.
“I am incredibly happy that we were able to make a difference and put clean smiles on the faces of the people of Kenya,” Barber added.
Kenya Relief was started more than 15 years ago by Wallace State alumni Steve James, a nurse anesthetist who visited the area to meet a child his late daughter Brittney sponsored through a worldwide charity. During his time there, he saw a great need for increased medical care and housing for area residents and orphans in the area and Kenya Relief was born.
Now the organization supports Brittney’s Home of Grace, an orphanage housing almost 100 children; Brase Clinic and Vision Center, a medical clinic that serves more than 1,000 patients during the year; and Kenya Relief Academy, a school that serves over 500 children from the area.
Wallace State’s students volunteered to work in the medical clinic, performing dental cleanings and assisting dentists during procedures.
This global health outreach/service learning project is one of several aspects of internationalization implemented by Wallace State to encourage students to become global citizens with cross cultural competencies ready to work in a 21st century interconnected world. The college also conducts an annual international short-term educational trip along with on-campus activities and programs related to diversity and cultural enrichment for students and the community.
For more information about the Dental Hygiene or Dental Assisting programs at Wallace State and its clinic, call 256.352.8300 or visit www.wallacestate.edu. For information about international opportunities, visit www.wallacestate.edu/abroad or call 256.352.8118.
For more information about Kenya Relief, visit www.kenyarelief.org.