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'Work the World' dental elective in Pokhara, Nepal

posted November 21 2012 in Other countries

'Work the World' dental elective in Pokhara, Nepal

Dental student Kerry Bargelli reflects on undertaking a dental elective with 'Work the World 'when she went to a small village in Nepal and brought much needed dental care to the inhabitants.

As we flew into in the beautiful city of Pokhara, on the bumpy Yeti Airlines flight from Kathmandu, I was stunned by the green patchwork of paddy fields over the rolling valleys surrounding the huge Phewa Tal Lake. It was unlike anything I have ever imagined – and such a magnificent beginning to my voluntary dentistry in Nepal. Work the World's wonderful Grishma met us at the airport with two other dental students who had arrived earlier that day. After our long journey we felt so relieved to arrive and receive such a warm welcome.

The next morning we set off early to get to Dampus, where we would be staying for the next two weeks to provide dental care to people who are many miles and a mountain away from the nearest dentist. The jeep dropped us off at the bottom of a mountain and we began our trek into the clouds. As a novice trekker the walk was made quite challenging by the heat but it was worth it for the breath taking views of the Pokhara valley and the sense of achievement when you reach the top where the temperature was cool and the air became thin. We were overwhelmed by the traditional welcome we received and we felt like royalty. The guesthouse was run by a lovely family who looked after us very well, we never went hungry and there were always second   helpings of Dal Bhat on offer (the traditional Nepali dish of rich lentils with various spices combined with chicken or potatoes). The guesthouse was very clean and mosquito nets had been put up for us. It was very basic in terms of facilities and it took us a while to get used to the electricity cutting out several times a day, but there was a good back up power supply and we learnt how to get by on just the essentials – a great learning experience and it made me really appreciate what I have at home.

We set up our clinic in the local secondary school. We had a room for screening and a room to provide treatment. Our supervisor was always on hand to help with difficult extractions or advice about treatment, which was invaluable. For our group of twelve volunteer dentists we all treated about six patients a day and screened many more. The language barrier was difficult at times, and although we had volunteers from the village to help with this, it was inevitable that sometimes messages were lost in translation. We did our best to speak slowly and clearly to the volunteers and we learnt a little bit of Nepalese! The dentistry was pretty basic; although we had an ample supply of materials we did not have aspirators and kept having to ask the patient to spit out as their mouth filled with water from the high-speed drill. The lighting made it difficult to screen and treat patients and that's where the head torches came in very useful. The decontamination process was very different to the UK, with a bucket of soapy water as opposed to an autoclave. There were no facilities to take radiographs prior to extractions and fillings, and there were a few surprises with the occasional three rooted lower molars. All in all, the stark difference between dentistry in the UK and in Nepal made our experience very worthwhile. We had to work together as a team and we learnt a lot!

One of my most memorable days of the project was going around the village with a handful of mirrors, screening the locals who hadn't had a chance to visit the clinic at the school yet. We knocked on doors and I remember being surprised by the amount of people that came out of the small house. Everyone was keen to see us and get their teeth checked and we told anyone who needed dental treatment to come to the clinic in the next few days, which most of them did. On our way back the heavens opened and we got soaked through and of course the leeches came out in force!
I loved everything about my two weeks dental elective in the hills in the middle of Nepal. I learnt so much and it was truly an experience of a lifetime that I would recommend to anyone. I have a fantastic sense of achievement, and I'm so pleased that we were able to improve the dental health of a small village in Nepal. The fond farewell we received, being serenaded down the mountain by the village band, showed how much our presence was appreciated and I felt like I had made a real difference.

Work the World is the UK's leading provider of dentistry electives for UK and international students in Africa, Asia and South America. We tailor placements to match clinical interests, provide 24/7 support as well as provide full board and accommodation. Find out more about the placements on offer on our website, or speak to someone in person on 01273 573 863.

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