Monday, November 06, 2006

Team Tabasamu 2006 Trip Report

Team Tabasamu has just returned from their 12 day dental mission project in Kitale, Kenya – exhausted and exhilarated from the experience, and enthusiastic about its future. The 12-member team included six members of Trinity (Kaylyn Koberna, Otho Kerr, Kyle Evans, Jerry Harbaugh, Megg King and Trey Wilson), three people from New York City (Dr Gary Rabinowitz, Rev. Cari Jackson and Lisa Green) and three people from Bucks County (Dr. Paul Leventhal, Dental Hygienist Tonia Richard and Evelyn Pantuso). Each person brought an array of gifts and talents that allowed our group to function as a team with only 12 hours of training time together. It was a truly awesome thing to see how the cosmic puzzle of personalities and abilities fit together and how things just got done.

Our mission was to provide free dental care and education for underserved communities in the Anglican Diocese of Kitale in western Kenya. In addition, our mission is to provide opportunities for cross-cultural exchange between the two communities. We established some very specific goals in advance of our trip. Here’s the breakdown of our goals and our experiences: (and yes, our equipment arrived on time and in place in advance of our arrival!) We hoped to provide actual treatment (fillings and cleanings) to at least 150 people, and our team of four dental professionals did just that!! We hoped to support local professional treatment for at least another 300 people (dental extractions). We actually examined and treated more than 500 people with the help of about 16 Kenyan volunteers!! We hoped to educate another 450 people on good oral hygiene and preventative techniques. Our “Tooth Tour” team actually made presentations to more than 5000 students at 14 academies and at the two clinics we operated!! Otho Kerr did a phenomenal job heading up the Tooth Tour (“Safari ya Meno” in Kiswahili). Our vans not only visited 14 schools but also some very small parishes in more remote areas of the Diocese. Our programs offered a wonderfully crafted puppet show called “How Tooth Became Healthy” that helped young people understand prevention and the role of diet in a very amusing and musical narrative. The puppet show was conceived by Doylestown’s Evelyn Pantuso (her husband has won four Emmys for his work on “Sesame Street” but she conceived the idea herself!) There were also visual aids and a panel discussion that enabled older children to learn about improving oral health.

The average Kenyan suffers from EXTREMELY poor oral health, which adversely affects them in a myriad of ways. Dental hygiene and dietary awareness are topics that get very little attention in Kenya. In addition, there is only one dentist for every 300,000 individuals. Knowledge of available dental resources is very poor and dental services most often accessed are emergent (e.g. treating infections and tooth extractions). It is a drain on an individual’s budget to have a tooth pulled ($1.30 US) and so many people live in a chronic state of pain and infection. Painkillers and antibiotics are also not readily available. Our goal is to help our dental community be aware of alternative treatments like fillings, dental cleanings and fluoride treatments and to offer those individuals that choice if the situation is not too serious. We also encouraged students at the academies to consider dentistry as a career and were met with a great deal of interest. We were encouraged by the curiosity and enthusiasm of the students and will maintain contact with interested students to support their potential career choice in dentistry. Kenya needs quality, affordable dental care and between the two clinics we opened for the week and the Tooth Tours, Tabasamu provided a service that the population clearly needs and values.

Some of the highlights of cross-cultural experience were: our first annual “Tabasamu Night.” We invited 40 people from the Diocese to a beautifully decorated banquet to say “Welcome,” “Thank-you,” and “Here we are.” Each table of four told a particular tooth story, some based on local folklore and others based on experience. Otho led the entertainment with a solo rendition, a capella, of his brand new now famous Broadway-bound rendition of Tabasamu sang to the melody of “Every Man has a Daydream.” We brought to the group’s attention that Tabasamu was not exclusively a Christian Mission and that we had all just finished experiencing the holy day of Yom Kippur with our Jewish friends on the team. They were very appreciative of this to say the least. As a symbol of the friendship, our two communities exchanged a friendship tile from the Moravian Tileworks in Doylestown and toothbrushes were given to every guest. Every day held endless opportunities to go outside of oneself and experience life through the eyes, ears and steps of Kenyans. Whether it was from the local dishes we ate, the music we heard, the open markets we visited, and the smiling faces we encountered everywhere, Team Tabasamu came away with an appreciation for how God’s Love is celebrated and shared in a beautiful corner of Kenya.

Trey Wilson

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