With COVID-19 restrictions affecting local community placements in 2020 and 2021, the C10D10 class from the Vancouver College of Dental Hygiene (VCDH) changed gears and chose to go global. Community Dental Hygiene instructor, Kelly Antosh, was contacted by a community-based organization based in Nakuru County, Northern Kenya who had a group of young volunteers who wished to address gaps in necessary health and dental care in their community and were hoping to partner with VCDH to move this forward.
Images and descriptions of some of the oral health problems in the community were observed by the Kenyan volunteers and communicated to the VCDH students who worked virtually to help assist these young Kenyans address the oral health needs of their community. In the words of the Nakuru group spokesman:
“Most can’t afford toothbrushes and toothpaste. Some live below the poverty line, therefore don’t have the means to afford any type of dental treatment. The majority can barely afford to eat at all due to having an income of maximum a dollar per day. The lack of access to care became severe due to the locust infestation in the East Africa continent and Kenya, in particular, which made all the harvest go to waste. The situation escalated even more during the Covid-19 pandemic as most people started to lose their jobs.”
The VCDH students took on several strategies by dividing themselves into teams to accomplish the following:
- Communicate with the Kenyan team to accurately address their needs
- Procure oral health supplies that could be easily shipped to Kenya
- Design educational materials in English and Swahili
- Fundraise to pay for shipping and import costs in Kenya
- Pack all supplies and materials to be sent as economically and efficiently as possible
- Report to VCDH administration and stakeholders on project progress
After a lot of organization and collaboration between Vancouver and Kenya, by May 17, 2021 the oral health supplies arrived safely in Kenya and were gratefully received by the team. Elation was the word of the day when the team partnered with a local school to give out the supplies and educational materials. In total the VCDH class sent toothbrushes, toothpaste, shirts, CDs with educational information, a flash drive with student-designed English and Swahili educational resources for children, educational posters on oral self-care and caries prevention, children’s stickers, bottles of oral rinse and lip balms. After the supplies were distributed to this rural school, the VCDH students were thrilled to do a virtual Zoom call with the Kenya team to finally “meet” face to face as members of a collaborative effort.
While the VCDH dental hygiene students understood that their efforts were just a small part of the long journey to improving oral health in Nakuru Kenya, it was a wonderful way to push past pandemic restrictions by crossing international boundaries to share knowledge and resources with a partner community seeking help in Nakuru Kenya.