As soon as our first year dental students have settled in, they hear about the legendary fourth year. On the elective project, there are six weeks of travelling and seeing dentistry abroad. Ever since, I had been imagining and planning where I wanted to go and what I want to do. I have always felt that to fully appreciate a country, you have to immerse yourself in their culture, their people, and their way of life. After consulting the dental tutors, I started to appreciate the elective study as more than a time to take out of university for travelling. I have always had a passion for volunteering with children and the less privileged. After several months of research and talking to senior students and staff, I decided that the East Meets West Dental Clinic (EMWDC) would be the perfect place for me to serve. The majority of the humanitarian work done by EMWDC was for unprivileged children with high caries rates in rural areas.
The plan was to do three weeks of practical dentistry for street children, orphans, and children from deprived areas.
Two weeks were dedicated to outreach clinics in the rural area of Cam An Ward, Hoi An and at Do Thuc Tinh Secondary School in Hoa Khuong Commune of the Hoa Vang District, Da Nang.
The remaining week was in the Da Nang City where I focused on treatment of children from the SOS Orphanage and Da Nang Street Children Centre. I was placed with a group of six dental students from the University of Newcastle on their electives. This was four days of preventative, hygiene and restorative work. There was an unlimited supply of patients. The flow was kept at 15-30 patients per day, depending of the speed of the volunteers. Due to the varying speeds and unpredictable number of patients, the humanitarian value was unknown for this week.
The first and last outreach to rural area weeks brought a total of 926 patients to our group. EMW estimated the total humanitarian value we gave back to the region was more than $156,000 USD.
We celebrated with an evening dinner with all the EMWDP staff and donors. The evening was filled with a warm sense of community, local delicacies and boisterous rounds of karaoke.
It has truly been the most eye-opening experience of my life. Being a volunteer of the EMWDC in these past three weeks, I take great pride as a team to achieve its mission to deliver oral health to the children in need and to create smiles. I have found writing of my experience in Vietnam more difficult than expected. It has been an incredible journey that I will hold close to my heart and words fail to describe the rollercoaster of a ride it was. I was able to discover the ancient culture of the Champa Kingdom and its fascinating history and religion. I felt an indescribable freedom of riding up a mountainside on a motorcycle with the sea breeze in my hair and found a new perspective on life. The beautiful city, its food and culture was what I came to appreciate, but it is the people have made me fall in love.