In this issue we hear from Oliver Jones, a UWA Dental Science graduate, about his experiences working as a volunteer in Vietnamese orphanages:
Since finishing uni I have worked privately as a dentist in rural and city settings, but by far the most rewarding experience for me is being a member of an aid organisation. Being part of an aid team is great, because you get the opportunity to help people that have a lesser capacity to help themselves... people who have nothing and the last thing they can afford to worry about is their teeth.
The aid team I am a member of (Christian Health Aid Team) focuses on orphans and disabled children in Vietnam. About four times each year a group comprised of a doctor, dentists, dental assistants, volunteer helpers, organisers and nurses undertakes a 1-2 week trip to perform dentistry in Vietnam.
Anyone can get involved with something like this, and it's really nice to help these kids out. Most of the orphanages that we visit are highly impoverished; sometimes the funding can be as abysmal as 3 dollars per child per week for everything. Dental check-ups or treatments are simply not a reality there, so we see some pretty dire need. We treat some very unfortunate mouths so anything we do goes a long way.
The great part about this sort of thing is the kids we work with are invariably grateful, as are their carers. Many have never seen or heard of a dentist, or even a foreigner, but they can be remarkably composed and hardy. It's great fun meeting these people from such a different culture to mine. Teary and uplifting experiences tend to be evenly distributed amongst the trips!
I am grateful I got involved with this type of work because I never really thought about, or saw myself, helping anyone when I was studying and choosing what to do with my life. It certainly lights a different sort of fire under you and changes your perspective on everything else! My decision to study Dentistry was mainly based on what I knew about dentists and their lifestyle, and also the technical, tool shop type of work that we do. Now I am glad I studied something that has given me a practical and helpful way of being of use to people who need it.