Why did you choose this program?
Serving the community has always been a growing seed in me. I was always the first to join events that culminate in the benefit of the majority and people in need. Those events always had an exceptional effect on me and reassured my love for volunteering every time.
I chose this destination because I have always considered India as a very interesting and spiritual country to visit due to the diversity in religions, languages and cultures. And I wanted to explore India not just as a tourist but also as a healer and a helping hand.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
The dental program was organized by volunteering solutions; however, I heard about it through the Gulf Dental Student Association - the GDSA.
GDSA arranged all communications with volunteering solutions and helped us with the application process.
The local organizing team of volunteering solutions had prepared everything for our stay in India, including the accommodation, local transportation, meals and, of course, everything related to the dental camp, from disposable material and instruments to medications.
On the other hand, we had to arrange our visa application and our flights to India.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Double check with your local organizing team.
Some things can't be provided by the dental camp, but can be very beneficial for the patients. For example, getting fluoride varnish with you can help control early childhood caries. Or getting a portable reclining chair can help you provide longer or more complex treatments.
Such simple acts can make camps more fruitful and allow you to help more people!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
The dental program was from 4th till 11th of January but the biggest advantage of this program was that we were not fixed to one location.
Each day we would drive for around half an hour to a nearby village in the mountain regions of the Himalays at the northern part of India. In each village, we set up a dental camp to provide dental check ups and basic dental treatments like extractions, simple fillings and cleaning.
We faced some cases that were beyond what we can treat in the dental camp, but we were able to guide those patients on the status of their oral health and advise them on what should be done next in terms of treatment. We were accompanied by a team of local doctors and nurses that helped us with translating and providing the treatment needed for the villagers.
However, it was not all work and no fun! That is the misconception people have about volunteering!
We had enough free time to enjoy Palampur like proper tourists, we also drove up the mid region of the Himalayas and went for a small hike where snow covered some regions of the mountains, we walked through the tea gardens and got a tour of the tea factory.
We also had one day to spend in McLeodGanj, the city of Buddhist monks and the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
It might seem very challenging for someone to apply for a mission trip in a country abroad; a million thoughts will cross your mind when you think of signing up for such a thing.
I feared that the program might not be very well organized; but I was proven wrong! The local team was extremely well organized and very welcoming. We felt right at home! We had support from the local organizers 24/7, until the very last minute of our trip.
This trip has been an amazing experience and a life changing one! It changed me and made me more capable of working under different conditions and with people I just met. I am sure this won't be my last trip!
What were the things you learned from this trip?
First, I noticed a few differences in the way of using certain instruments and differences in some techniques which definitely added to my knowledge and expanded my experience. At the end of the day, there are multiple schools of dentistry and different ways to do one thing, but the outcome of relieving pain and improving dental health is the goal in all schools around the globe.
Second, the environment is not ideal and going back to the basics of dentistry with minimal instruments, regular chairs (not a reclining dental unit), and poor lighting was challenging, but also rewarding because I discovered that even with basic instruments a proper treatment can be done. I was able to save many teeth with just simple procedures.
Being in camps teaches you how to maximize your abilities and use whatever you have to provide the best treatment possible. It simply rekindles the creativity in you.