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  1. Steak & Implants

    April 25, 2016

    Last week was a busy week – ending with a fantastic day at the Dentistry Show.  I’ve been on no fewer than 12 trains battled with signal failures on the Jubilee line, and got a lot fitter lugging suitcases through the tube network.

    I also learned a lot about implants (dental ones that is). And over a steak.


    Because on Tuesday I had the great honour of addressing the London Dental Fellowship meeting in Mayfair. The fellowship have donated generously to Bridge2Aid over the past 5 years, and I was very keen to show the members where that money has gone. The fellowship is a fairly serious group of dentists. You have to have been qualified for 10 years to join, guests are welcome but they have to be invited by a member, and be dentists too. The whole group are galvanised in their aim to learn and challenge each other to excellence in their chosen field.

    And so it was a great honour for me, a non-dentist, to be invited to speak and explain the work we do. I spoke about how volunteering can make a genuine difference to development and the quality of people’s lives. How in responding to the huge challenge presented by the burden of oral disease, we have a responsibility to do so with integrity and in an ethical and integrated way, and how as clinicians, and a profession, the members have a wonderful opportunity to create a lasting impact with their skills by working with Bridge2Aid. Finally, how our vision is to be a leader in modelling dental charity work which is all about development, rather than short term aid, and strengthening health care systems rather than attempting quick fixes.

    Because of the format of the evening, and the gracious invitation I had to speak, the event was restructured so that the main lecture by a leading implant dentist, Andrew Dawood, was over dinner. Normally the thought of eating whilst sitting through a clinical lecture isn’t my idea of fun, but I have to say I found the whole thing fascinating.

    Because in this area of dentistry, it’s basically biomechanical engineering, and the level of precision and technology required is outstanding. I am in awe, as I constantly am, of the skills required for dentistry.

    And so the evening was a juxtaposition of the most basic emergency dentistry, which is denied to hundreds of millions globally, alongside the precision and complexity of the most technical levels of dentistry. And yet one serves the other. Thanks to the generosity of groups like the London Dental Fellowship, the UK dental industry, and the individual members of the profession who dedicate their time and money to Bridge2Aid, we are able to move millions of people onto the first rung of the oral health ladder – an awareness of how to prevent disease, and access to simple treatments.

    So – eating a steak whilst learning about implants gets chalked up on the ‘firsts’ list!

  2. Oral Health – an urgent need

    March 24, 2016

    The annual World Oral Heath Day came around last week.

    If like me, you’re not a dentist, you probably missed it. Given the number of other diseases we hear about, that sadly kill sufferers far more quickly, that’s no surprise. So why is oral health important, when there’s so much else in the news?

    What I’ve observed over the dozen or so years I’ve been running a charity connected to dental health, is that oral health and access to dentistry isn’t seen as important because we take it for granted.

    Let’s face it, sugar consumption in the past 30 years has rocketed in the UK, and yet the level of dental disease hasn’t. Caries, or tooth decay, rates in children seem to be coming down (although there are still far too many kids needing extractions – about half of all eight-year-olds have tooth decay). On the whole, people understand that they need to brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss, visit the dentist regularly, and cut back on sugar. Whether they choose to do it is another matter.

    And so we’ve got very comfortable in the UK where our oral health is concerned. If we do have a problem, we’ve got somewhere we can go to get prompt help.

    However, we’re in the minority – by a long way.

    I spoke with an American dental surgeon during a recent volunteer placement she made here in Tanzania, where our charity (which takes out British dental volunteers to train local health workers) is based.

    She told me she was seeing around one death per month in the district hospital: from complications caused by tooth decay.

    “For every death we see,” she said, “we know there are a lot more people that are at risk because of severe infection.”

    The most recent case she had seen was a 28-year-old woman, seven months pregnant, who had been referred from her village with a dental abscess that had failed to drain properly.

    “The swelling was very large – the infection tracked into her chest. We operated to try and remove necrotising tissue, but it was too late. We lost her, and her baby.”

    Death from toothache. In the 21st Century.

    More than 70% of the world still lives without the chance of any kind of dental help: no dentists, no pain relief, no-one to fix you up. These people, mostly living in the rural areas of developing countries, have little understanding of oral health care, access to toothpaste or even that sugar is bad for your teeth.

    It wasn’t so long ago, before the discovery or antibiotics and an increase in dental training, that a similar situation existed in the UK. One of the leading causes of death in the 16th century was sepsis due to untreated dental infections.

    People can, and still do, die from dental infection – all for want of a simple tooth extraction at the right time.

    Of course, for every death, there are thousands more men, women and children who suffer in agony at the risk of complications, or who receive horrific injuries through self or unqualified treatment.

    I’ve shared this before, but I keep coming back to this boy – Petro.



    On one side of his face the skin was taut, bright and healthy – as the skin of a 12-year-old should be. On the other, it looked like it had aged 70 years; rough, distressed and tired.

    Petro’s mother was visibly upset, as any mother would be. She felt helpless. Petro was crying, holding his right cheek; petrified.

    Over the past month Petro had been taken by his parents to see the local witch doctor about the worsening pain.

    The witch doctor, professing to know what was causing the problem, had repeatedly stabbed and cut Petro’s cheek with a razor blade and then proceeded to rub into the wounds a black powder: a concoction of ground charcoal, dried leaves and other ingredients. He had done this on each of Petro’s three visits; the pain gradually increased.

    Petro had missed a lot of school, only attending for about three days, even in a good week. The rest of the time he spent sleeping at home unable to concentrate on anything other than the intense pain.

    They couldn’t afford a doctor, and anyway Petro didn’t have the luxury of time to travel and wait for the referrals and treatment a doctor might provide. At no point had anyone identified that Petro’s pain was being caused by a dental issue.

    Our team identified the cause of Petro’s pain as a dental abscess – something that can be simply treated with antibiotics and an extraction.


    We were able to save him further pain and infection, but Petro is scarred for life by his experiences; no doubt mentally scarred too. For me he sums up why something so simple, so basic as oral health is important – because without education, understanding, prevention, and crucially in this case, ready access to treatment, life becomes miserable and impossible for billions of people every year.


    This blog is updated from one originally published on Huffington Post

  3. Other People’s Views

    March 9, 2016

    It’s been a couple of weeks now since I hosted five leaders from the dental industry on a short visit to Tanzania. My only regret is that I didn’t organise something like this sooner. The trip was a great success and it was a privilege to show the group around Mwanza, visit a Bridge2Aid training site, go to Hope Dental Centre and spend time with some of the government officials we work with.geita

    It’s always good to get other people to examine what you do. It reaffirms what you believe and adds new perspectives. It was great to hear the group talk about the common threads of our work – sustainability, a response at the appropriate level, and integration with what exists – as well as pulling out themes that we sometimes take for granted – the efficiency and value of the operation, the strength of the team, and the outstanding nature of the volunteers’ contribution.

    Reflecting on the words below a couple of weeks on, I am immensely proud to be part of what they describe. We now push on to do more of the same for more communities in more places. Huge thanks again to my travelling companions Alison from Oasis, Patrick from Henry Schein Dental, Bob from Dentisan, Jason from FMC, and Steve from Straumann.

    On visiting the Emergency Dental Training Programme:

    Alison Speak, HR Director, Oasis Dental Care
    “Although I’d been on a B2A training day in the UK , to see, first hand , just what an impact the programme is having was very emotional. Everything I observed (commitment of volunteers, skills of the clinical officers in training, organisation and admin skills of the employed local staff ) confirmed to me that the approach B2A have taken will effect lasting change. I noticed and felt the egalitarian nature of this approach – I liked the way that people seemed to be valued for the different skills they bring. It didn’t seem hierarchical – and I particularly noticed the way the patients are treated with respect.”
    Patrick Allen – MD, Henry Schein Dental
    “Seeing the clinical officers providing treatment so proficiently after just 7 days of dental training, with little or no need for intervention is remarkable and proves just how well the model works. The examples of today’s patients walking such great‎ distances in order to access treatment after months and years in pain graphically illustrates the high level of the need. ‎The passion and dedication of the volunteers was incredible and meeting people who have been on 6+ programmes and who clearly will be back again was inspiring. I guess when you put all that together you have a special programme which is clearly creating lasting and sustainable change.”

    Jason Newington – MD, FMC
    “An amazing and humbling day watching the Bridge2aid volunteers at work. To see the life changing affect their work has on the lives of the local people who have suffered for so long with pain, was truly incredible. Bridge2Aid are simply making a massive difference to the community and its clear that the years of hard work and persistence by the team and volunteers has paid off”.

    Bob Newsome- Commercial Director, Dentisan
    “I witnessed great teamwork in play today, between Tanzanian Clinical Officers and Dental Volunteers from the UK – in less than ideal conditions, the rhythm of work and the camaraderie established was a delight and pleasure to see.”

    Steve Booth – MD, Straumann
    “Today was truly an inspiring day in several ways.
    1. The patients, some clearly in pain and discomfort, were themselves immensely patient and grateful for the treatment they had or were about to receive. For a patient to have chronic dental pain and to be able to relieve it must have a dramatic effect on the quality of their lives.
    2. British volunteers – whether nurses or dentists. The team spirit, respect and closeness of the volunteers was clear to see. The way they supported each other and the Clinical Officers was amazing. How they run such an efficient clinic in such an environment is astonishing and clearly a testament to the quality of the people and the process you have put in place. The way they look after each other to be safe clearly came through even in a challenging environment
    3. The word that keeps coming to my mind is quality. That may seem a strange thing to say in such circumstances. Let me explain why that is. There is little more you can do but to relieve pain and further infection in most of the cases the team see. The quality of care for these patients in such an environment is truly mind blowing. From the booking in process, sterilisation process, patient care, and the training (which is the most important and which means it has the opportunity to be sustainable) is incredible in such an environment. To see all six clinical officers today taking charge of all of the clinical work shows what can be achieved with the right mindset and people. A truly inspiring day in so many ways and one that has inspired me to train hard and fundraise hard for our bike ride to be able to help and enable you to continue with this amazing and much-needed work.”

    On visiting the Mwanza Offices, Hope Dental Centre and the Government Officials:

    Alison Speak:
    “Bridge2Aid’s close working relationship with the various government health departments was evident from the ease with which we were greeted and welcomed – all credit to Mark’s personable and focussed approach , which seems to enable him to effectively navigate working alongside health officials who move post every 3 years.

    “On to the Hope Clinic and what a great dental centre! A modern, well run clinic – a sustainable revenue stream for the field training programmes. Grace – the PM – and Rosemary the receptionist were both a delight to meet – strong, competent women, delivering a well run clinic. I’ll definitely be encouraging both Oasis dentists and hygienists to consider volunteering to come out as volunteer locum dentists, working alongside the local dentists.

    “We then moved on the the administration office and met the team who so effectively manage the rollout of the programme – Jacqueline and Jackie , who have both been with B2A for 6 years and Joyce the programme manager. It cant be easy managing the movement of people and kit across Tanzania (especially when a lot of the people have never been to an African county before!) but they seem to get everything to the right place at the right time with the precision of a military operation!”

    Patrick Allen:
    “It was reassuring for me to see how highly the B2A programmes ‎are valued by the region and the depth of the relationship the team have developed with local officials. To witness first hand the formal recognition of the central role B2A play in delivering sustainable emergency dental care to the rural communities of Tanzania was an emphatic testimonial to the difference this organisation is making.”

    Steve Booth:
    “It was fantastic to see how a modern well run dental practice manages not just to survive but thrive in the relatively harsh conditions in Tanzania. Treating mainly local people it has become an important part of the fundraising for Bridge2aid. Providing quality dental care while paying the profits back Bridge2aid to enable the team to train more clinical officers to provide emergency dental care in the rural areas. Seeing the way the team overcome the problems of power, heat, equipment failure and lack of lab work, again just shows anything is possible if you want and believe it is, and are prepared to find a way.

    “The passion and commitment to the organisation from the volunteers, Bridge2aid team and the clinical officers has been inspiring. Bridge2aid has now trained 400 clinical officers. This means that 10s of 1000s Tanzanians are no longer living with the debilitating dental pain on a yearly based. This sounds like a great success and it is in many ways. It has only got to this level by the commitment hard work of a fairly small group of dedicated staff and volunteers. But everyone here in the Bridge2Aid team and the volunteers still know that they have only just scratched the surface of the problems for the millions of Tanzanians that live in the rural areas. This trip has totally reinforced my feelings before I came out that it is such a worthy cause to support and it is astonishing what has been achieved with relatively low amounts of funding. Every pound raised or donated can and will have an effect on a life in Tanzania.”

  4. Industry Leaders Visit the Dental Training Programme

    February 24, 2016

    This week, a group of Dental Industry Leaders from the UK have joined Mark in Tanzania to see first hand where their support is going, and the difference it is making.


    The group left at 6am UK for the 3 hour drive to Kasamwa in Geita District where one of the two teams that are here at the moment are training and treating. The drive took them through areas where Bridge2Aid (B2A) have trained extensively over the past 11 years and where access to Emergency Dental Treatment is now provided 365 days a year by the local health workers we have trained.

    IMG_7374Arriving on site, they met with the Site Clinical Lead, an experienced dentist with several trips under his belt who is leading the clinical team on this programme. Having worked with other charities in the past, the sustainable and training nature of B2A’s approach first attracted him and has kept him firmly committed ever since. The training team had already registered 99 patients for the morning, with more arriving as word spread.

    Among the first to arrive that day was an 86 year old man who had started walking before dawn for 4 hours to reach the clinic, having been in pain for 2 years.

    Our visitors spent several hours touring the clinic and talking to volunteers, Health Workers (the trainees), and the local government dentist.IMG_4041

    They viewed the treatment in progress, all performed today by the Health Workers, all of whom have passed thIMG_7364e 9 day course, and coached by the training dentists who started work with them just last week. They saw the sterilisation processes used and taught to the Health Workers, and heard an Oral Health education talk given to the group of waiting patients by one of the Health Workers, a key component of Bridge2Aid’s programme.

    Tomorrow they will spend the day in Mwanza visiting local officials with whom B2A have worked with over the past 11 years, Hope Dental Center (B2A’s social enterprise dental clinic) and meet the B2A team based here.

    On the way home from the programme, the visitors gave us these reflections on the day:

    Alison Speak from Oasis

    “Although I’d been on a B2A training day in the UK , to see, first hand , just what an impact the programme is having was very emotional. Everything I observed today (commitment of volunteers, skills of the  clinical officers in training, organisation and admin skills of the employed local staff) confirmed to me that the approach B2A have taken will effect lasting change.”

    Patrick Allen – Henry Schein Dental

     “The passion and dedication of the volunteers was incredible and meeting people who have been on 6+ programmes and who clearly will be back again was inspiring. …[this is] a special programme which is clearly creating lasting and sustainable change”

     Jason Newington – FMC

    “An amazing and humbling day watching the Bridge2aid volunteers at work. To see the life changing effect their work has on the lives of the local people who have suffered for so long with pain, was truly incredible. Bridge2aid are simply making a massive difference to the community and its clear that the years of hard work and persistence by the team and volunteers has paid off”.

     Bob Newsome – Dentisan

    “I witnessed great teamwork in play today, between indigenous Tanzanian Clinical Officers and Dental Volunteers from the UK- in less than ideal conditions the rhythm of work and the camaraderie established was a delight and pleasure to see

    Steve Booth – Straumann

    “Today was truly an inspiring day in several ways. 

     “The patients, some clearly in pain and discomfort, were themselves immensely patient and grateful for the treatment they had or were about to receive. For a patient to have chronic dental pain and to be able to relieve it must have a dramatic effect on the quality of their lives. 

    The team spirit, respect and closeness of the volunteers was clear to see. The way they supported each other and the Clinical Officers was amazing. How they run such an efficient clinic in such an environment is astonishing and clearly a testament to the quality of the people and the process you have put in place.

     “To see all six clinical officers today taking charge of all of the clinical work shows what can be achieved with the right mindset and people. A truly inspiring day in so many ways and one that has inspired me to train hard and fundraise hard for our bike ride to be able to help and enable you to continue with this amazing and much-needed work.”


  5. Remembering why I started

    February 22, 2016


    This week I am back in Tanzania for the first time since we left, after 10 years of residency, in July last year.  Building up to the trip, and indeed on the journey here, I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel being back here. Would I hit culture shock, would I be able to deal with the change in pace, inshore, would I still be OK here?

    What I found was that landing in Dar es Salaam was like putting on an old pair of shoes. I ‘fit’ here. I’m comfortable (especially once my Kiswahili cranked back into action), and there is so much familiarity that it’s almost like I feel more at home than I do in the UK.

    It has been fantastic to reconnect – it’s amazing how distant you can become from a place in such a short period as 7 months, even after 10 years living here. But being here again has reminded me about why we started. Just being in country has brought back the connection with Tanzania and its people flooding back, and it has been so good to see so many people that I worked with and alongside for such a long time.

    I’m particularly excited about one of my main reasons for being here, and that is to host some visitors to the Emergency Dental Training course next week.

    On Tuesday I’m taking our Patron, the former Minister of Health, Professor David Mwakyusa to visit the team working in Geita region in north west Tanzania. Professor Mwakyusa is a key advocate for our work and has been a huge support since he became a Patron last year, and both he and I are really looking forward to the visit.

    On. Tuesday evening a group of dental industry leaders arrive in Mwanza for a short visit to see the training course and the Bridge2Aid operation. The group comprises Patrick Allen, MD of Henry Schein Dental, Steve Booth, Managing Director of Straumann, Jason Newington, Managing Director of FMC, Bob Newsome, Commercial Director of Dentisan, and Alison Speak, HR Director of Oasis Dental. They are great friends of Bridge2Aid from the industry and I can’t wait to show them what we do.

    It’s always a privilege to show people the training course and introduce them to our fabulous Tanzania team. Of course it’s also a challenge for people – seeing the scale of the problem of untreated dental pain, and the impact that it has on the lives of so many people. It’s good for visitors to see people having their pain relieved, often after many years of suffering. But what makes what we do unique is that it is a training intervention, and at the appropriate level. The WHO points out that the fundamental need, and a human right for everyone, is access to safe pain relief from dental infection. And that is why we focus on making that, as well as access to preventative education, available to as many people as possible. Our visitors will see that, and meet the Clinical Officers – medically qualified professionals based in villages – and get to understand the health system and how what we do goes beyond trying to good, and makes along term difference – sustainably relieving and preventing pain, building capacity, and strengthening the healthcare system.

    This week, each one of our guests will have their eyes opened and I fully expect them to each be challenged and impacted by what they see, smell, hear and touch. My hope is that the personal impact both challenges AND inspires them, as it did me, to do whatever we can to increase and expand our work.

    What Bridge2Aid does is unique, and appropriate.  Our volunteer options are unique. It works. We need to do more of it, in more places, and I’m confident that this week will bring even more support and resources on board to help us to help many more people in the years ahead.

  6. Charity & Business

    February 9, 2016

    Last week I was privileged to attend a meeting of Henry Schein Dental’s Key Suppliers in Kent. Patrick Allen of Henry Schein and many members of his team have been good friends of Bridge2Aid for a number of years, and it has been fantastic to have their support since the beginning. I was very pleased to be offered the opportunity to speak to his supplier network.

    One of the reasons for Bridge2Aid’s success over the past 12 years has been the outstanding support we have received from the UK dental industry and the companies in it. Over the years, this has grown steadily from a few items of donated dental kit, through to brand new complete surgeries and state of the art sterilisation equipment, as well as the many fund-raising activities and donations of cash, which have come along the way. We simply could not have grown at the rate that we have and achieved the results that we have without this generous support from the many companies in the industry.

    I think the reason why our support has grown and continues to grow, is because we share common ground with many of the businesses that we work with.B2AidEDTlogo

    Firstly, we run our own business. Hope Dental Centre is a commercial dental clinic in Mwanza which donates all of its profits to help fund the operational costs of the NGO, and runs like any dental practice in the UK. We have the same requirements of staffing, supplies, maintenance, finance and all the other requirements that are needed to run a successful business. We have learnt a great deal of lessons in setting up the clinic and in running it for the last 12 years.

    We are also run like a business. From the very beginning, Bridge2Aid has benefited from the involvement of a number of trustees who are significant and successful business people in their own right. Early on they instilled principles of good operational and financial, as well as taking decisions in a business-like way. This process continues to this day and makes us one of the most sharply run and efficient charities in the sector.

    We are also committed, as many businesses are, to measuring and testing new initiatives before we invest in them. One of the downfalls that we sadly see with charities around the sector is that they carry out work which appears on the surface to be good, and is well-intentioned, but ultimately does not achieve an impact. If charities were businesses, they would cease to exist very quickly by operating in this way. If a product fails to work, then customers will not buy it, and income dries up. However, some charities continue to collect money from donors and spend it on programmes which fail to create a measurable impact in ways that bring about sustainable change for beneficiaries. This is something we have worked hard to avoid, rigorously evaluating our work, focussing on what demonstrates real results, and working hard to communicate this to our donors. We know that our work has meant that over 4 million people now have access to emergency dental treatment – a way out of pain. It’s a measurable success and has had a tangible impact on health in East Africa.

    I am very keen that people invest in us as a charity because we achieve results, not because of the perceived value of what we are trying to do or the need we are trying to meet. Impact is key and is what the beneficiaries that we are aiming to help deserve.

    Finally, we believe in win/win. For any company to get involved with a charity, and continue to be involved with a charity, there needs to be some benefit for them. From the very beginning and at every level, we have worked hard to make sure that there is a return for our corporate donors. This is true for our Unity Partners (who sponsor the training of a Health Worker), and all the benefits they can use in PR and promotion to their patients, or the positive profile that our corporate partners receive. Also, we work hard to make sure that there is a distinct benefit for the team members of companies that get involved with Bridge2Aid. It is not just about taking money or support from people and giving nothing in return; we want to make sure that the company comes out with added value as well.

    Mark Topley Feb 2016

  7. How You See It

    January 26, 2016

    January marks the tenth anniversary of when I moved to Tanzania with my wife Jo to pick up our work with Bridge2Aid full time.

    I had been working on the Dental Training Programme for 18 months, shuttling back and forward from the UK to run programmes, and at the time, I thought I knew the country and culture pretty well…


    DSC_1435Nothing could have prepared me for what was a baptism of fire in those first few months. I can laugh about it now, but we hit some situations in February of 2006 which were extremely testing and stressful to deal with. Working in a culture you don’t understand and in a government system you don’t know is bewildering. And in the face of so much unknown, fear can take over. Thankfully I was working alongside my best friend and the founder of Bridge2Aid Ian. His experience and approach to some of the crises we dealt with was a valuable lesson.

    Over the years since then, situations have continually arisen which were equally challenging. Regulatory changes, policy changes (often unannounced), attempts to extract bribes from us, intimidation, financial challenges, staffing challenges, accidents and emergencies, and all in a foreign country and culture.

    These situations give you the experience and knowledge to harden and sharpen your responses. I am so grateful for the calm ability to deal with whatever comes up that the many challenges, some real, some imagined, some threatened, that my time in East Africa have given me. We’ve worked hard to instil that knowledge into our teams too.

    As we started this year, there have yet again been more of these sorts of issues to contend with. I was reflecting on things recently with someone who use to work with us in Tanzania, and how the same things that would have caused huge concern in us when we arrived – we now just take in our stride. It is the conscious choice to believe that you can tackle whatever comes your way, and lean into the problem, that has been our choice and experience.

    And seeing the way our team in Tanzania are responding to the challenges that have come up this month makes me enormously proud.

    Someone once said that wisdom is ability to see current circumstances in the context of a bigger picture. What I have learned is that the outcome in almost all these things is always determined by my ability to respond, to remain positive, and to keep going.

    Tony Robbins talks about how our belief in a situation determines the action we will take, and that then effects the results we get. Seeing the result, good or bad, then shapes our belief again, and so on. So in any situation, it is not the circumstance that determines the outcome, but our belief that we can positively affect it, and the action we subsequently take that determines the outcome. Or as Jack Sparrow says ’The problem is not the problem. The way you think about the problem is the problem’.

    As an individual and as a leader I have grown enormously in past 10 years. It has been the toughest situations that made that happen. So what I hope encourages you as the New Year gets going, is that whether you’re in the midst of a challenging situation, or just waiting for the next one to come along – use it to your advantage. Choose a belief that creates great actions, and then see the results. As a passing shot, here is a quote that has reshaped my thinking as much as any other. From a book called ‘The Game Plan’ by Steve Bull, which I highly recommend.

    “Winners usually see challenges in terms of an opportunity to test themselves and prove something. Losers, on the other hand, default to seeing all the threats inherent in the challenge and develop anxiety around the possibility of things going wrong. Consequently they will not choose risky options even when the situation requires them to do so because they are fearful of failure.”

  8. January 13, 2016

    Throw your cap over the wall

    The New Year is upon us, and we’re all starting to feel the effect of the Christmas diet,  we’ve put away the decorations, and getting used to writing a ’6’ rather than a ‘5’ at the end of the date, something that usually takes me till February to master.  I hope Christmas was a good time for you, and you’re returning to work excited, as I am, about the next 12 months.

    We have 3 small children and so time off when the schools are out isn’t actually time off, it’s full-time child care!  But I did manage to grab a few hours over the holiday to read.  As well as the compulsory Lee Child novel, I was struck by this passage in a John Maxwell book I have had on my Kindle for a while.  Maxwell is talking about how making a public, or at least sharing commitment to a goal really helps him to keep on track with achieving it.  His friends and family can hold him to account for the goal he has set:

    “John F. Kennedy loves to tell stories about his grandfather Fitzgerald. When his grandfather was a boy in Ireland, he would walk home from school with a whole group of boys. There were a lot of very jagged, high cobblestone fences. They were kind of difficult to climb, and some of them were ten to twelve feet high, so they were a little dangerous to climb. But, being adventurous boys, they always wanted to go over the walls, but were afraid of getting hurt. One day as they were walking home from school, Fitzgerald took his cap off and threw it over the wall. The moment he threw it over the wall, he knew he had to climb over to get it back, because he didn’t dare go home without his cap or he would be disciplined. Throwing your cap over the wall commits you to stretch and do something you would not normally do.”

    This year I have decided to throw my cap over the wall and commit to the StraumaDSC_8116nn Cycle Challenge in September.  It’s been a while since I did something like this, with my Kilimanjaro Climb back in 2011, and so it’s high time I did.  For a recreational cyclist who does at most 20 miles on a Sunday in the summer, it’s a little daunting at the moment… It’s a 500 mile ride over 5 days from the Mediterranean coast to the Atlantic coast, and should be a very challenging ride, but a fantastic experience.

    I guess many of us have aims for the year ahead, some will have made resolutions.  In my experience a written goal, and a plan of how to achieve it are crucial for success, and I think a shared or public commitment helps enormously as well.  So having made my commitment, I will be getting down to a training plan, which has started with a turbo trainer in the garage until the weather is a bit more hospitable!

    The ride is being organised by our friends at Straumann to raise vital funds for Bridge2Aid, and I am very grateful to them for organising the ride once again.  I’m looking forward to joining the 40 or so other riders and tacking the miles together.  I’ll also be raising funds myself, so expect to see a Justgiving page soon!  Oh, and I’ll be begging the loan of a road bike from one of my cycling friends (who all seem to have at least 3 each, so I’m sure I’ll be fine).

    So, that’s my commitment to a challenge this year – a ride well beyond my current capability that will hopefully raise a lot of money for a charity that is making a very real and measurable impact on a worthy cause.

    What will you throw your cap over the wall for in 2016?

  9. Another year – and…?

    December 22, 2015

    What will 2016 mean for you?

    I don’t know about you but everywhere I look on the internet and social media I’d bombarded with the ‘make 2016 your best year yet’ blogs.

    It’s a theme we can predict with certainty. And it’s one I look forward to because this time of year does present such a great opportunity to look at things differently. As the end of 2015 now rapidly approaches, I, like you I hope, have been celebrating Christmas with friends and family and looking forward to what the New Year holds.

    It’s often at times like these when we celebrate, that we realise how fortunate we are. Pausing to reflect on that has certainly deepened my sense of gratitude. And I was greatly encouraged earlier in the month by one person’s response in a similar situation.

    I was at an awards ceremony. A gathering place for people who have worked hard and done great things, hoping to have that achievement recognised. A person I’ve know for a while sought me out for a chat. ‘We’ve had a great year, and I want to give something back’ she said. The practice she worked at were shortlisted for a prestigious award, and it was really clear to me that they thoroughly deserved it – they had worked very hard, and the hallmarks of a great team were clear to see. But it was her motivation to use that place of celebration as a platform to help others that really inspired me.

    ‘At times of celebration we reflect on what we’re grateful for, and that’s a great springboard to do something for others.’

    I know that in a couple of days time you’ll be thinking about what you’ll do differently in 2016. Why not use the year to embark on something you’ve been putting off, and do it for Bridge2Aid?

    It could be finally getting around to volunteering your dental skills on our unique sustainable training programme in East Africa, committing to getting fit and making it stick by making it a sponsored event for us, or giving something back each month and becoming a Friend of Bridge2Aid.


    Whatever you choose to do, start now. Whilst you have the space and time to reflect on what you really want to do next year – make the commitment.

    Thanks for reading, for your support and interest.

    A very Happy New Year!

  10. What is ‘good volunteering’?

    December 3, 2015

    Here’s a quite a dense quote : ‘The assumption that we are the solution to another’s problem becomes a proposition of self-interest, whereby we feel we are able to tell people what their problems are, and then deal with them on our own terms.’ Dickson & Dickson.

    I got involved with Bridge2Aid to help dental professionals who had a deep desire to do something positive for people in developing countries, to find opportunities which would be truly valuable for the communities they were seeking to help. While living in Tanzania I saw many well-meaning volunteer programmes. Unfortunately most miss the mark – either taking paid work away from locals or doing things that simply aren’t needed. It’s not always easy to tell from the photos or stories which projects are working. Although many trips do good work, not all do great work.DSC_8022

    Over the past 11 years, having run over 75 teams and worked with over 500 volunteers these are five things to think through when looking at opportunities to get involved:

    1. Is it sustainable?
    Will there be an impact after you have left? Does the programme create anything that doesn’t need ongoing external support?

    2. Is it appropriate?
    One of the major criticisms that Habib Benzian (World Health Organisation) made in his paper about dental charities in 2006 was that too many volunteers travel to a country bringing the same equipment and treatments that they use in the UK or the USA. This demoralises the local health workforce (who may not be able to perform such treatment or have access to this equipment) and uses time and resources which could be deployed on far more simple but appropriate treatments – for a far greater number of people. If it is more complex than pain relief and education, then there is a good chance that it will be inappropriate.

    3. Is it integrated?
    Very often volunteering organisations and opportunities ignore the fact that there is already a strategy for oral health in the country. The approach should taken not ignore this and or seek to impose what the volunteering organisation would like to do.

    4. Is it ethical?
    Does the organisation ask for your registration certificates and obtain a letter of good standing from the GDC before allowing you to practise? Do they insist on proof of extending indemnity cover? We have heard of many instances of volunteering organisations that arrive in a country without even registering with the local authorities. This lack of registration would not be tolerated in the UK, where visiting dentists have to gain approval from the GDC to practise. So why is the situation not the same when going to a developing country?

    5. Does it involve training?
    Without training nothing will change. At Bridge2Aid we could bring volunteers into Tanzania every week of the year to treat as many people as possible, but this still would not solve the problem of the huge burden of oral disease that exists in the country. Volunteers simply cannot gain access to some of the areas in the country where people most need help, and yet the training of a local Health Worker in emergency dentistry could place just such a person within the vicinity where people are suffering daily agony – all for the lack of a simple dental extraction.

    We need to change the way we think about volunteering, and even about what constitutes dentistry for the masses in the developing world. As Bridge2Aid approaches 400 African trainees providing 4 million people with access to emergency dentistry in Tanzania, I’m more convinced than ever that this approach works, and meets the need in the most sustainable, appropriate, integrated and ethical way.

    Our focus in the Bridge2Aid family is on providing permanent access to simple, effective emergency dentistry and education to the vast majority of the population who don’t have access to a dentist, and never will. It’s not an alternative to dentistry; it’s an alternative to no dentistry.

    If you would like to find out more about volunteering with Bridge2Aid, click here.