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  1. Ends of the Spectrum

    November 16, 2015

    This past weekend I really enjoyed visiting two events held by our supporters – the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry annual conference in central London, and the Campbell Academy Masquerade Ball in Nottingham.

    BACD members have been supporters for a few years now, donating several thousand pounds and a lot of goodwill to help us.


    Colin Campbell and his team have also supported us for a long time, and have sponsored the training of several Clinical Officers. They talk about their clinic having a reach way beyond Nottingham and are proud of the communities they are helping through being a part of Bridge2Aid.

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    What links these two events is that they are both organised by groups who are very much at the more complex end of dentistry – implants, cosmetic dentistry, smile makeovers. These involve clinical procedures at a level of technical expertise that simply astound me.

    So, how is it that these two groups end up working so closely with an organisation like ours that focusses entirely on making access to the simplest pain relief available. My view is there are two reasons – they understand, and they’re in a position to help. And so they do.

    They understand because they have studied extensively, and witnessed first hand, the pain and anguish that untreated dental disease can cause. Back in dental school, and in some cases more recently, they have studied the impact of complications arising from untreated abscesses on people. Pain, bone breakdown, septicaemia, death.

    They can help because they are in a fortunate position, which believe me, they have worked hard to achieve. They have the skills to help practically, and the financial resources to make an impact. Some even build in a charitable donation percentage to their business model. They want to give something back, and they do.

    It’s inspiring for me that people should want to join with us in this way. People who use the positions they have attained in life as a means to make a difference for others.

    For Bridge2Aid, this means making the very basics of what dentistry can provide to as many people as possible. Our goal is what the WHO calls a fundamental right for everyone – pain relief. We focus our efforts entirely on getting people onto first rung of oral health – that fundamental pain relief and the prevention of complications. Our commitment is to the rural poor – people who will otherwise face a lifetime of pain if we wait for the expansion of the healthcare system in traditional ways, or traditional forms of short term volunteering.

    This approach of making a larger and long term difference takes time. During the first ten years of our existence we focused our efforts in two countries – Tanzania and Rwanda. Together with their governments we have pioneered a training approach which enables existing medical workers to safely treat over 90% of cases. We’re extending our impact and our aim is to leave both of these countries with their own sustainable capacity to train in the next few years.

    This partnership between the clinicians in the UK working at one end of dentistry, and Bridge2Aid, working in developing countries to make the very basics available to everyone, is a fantastic picture of the British Dental Profession in action. My thanks to both the BACD and the Campbell Academy and Clinic for their friendship and support.

  2. Bridge2aid – Punching above our weight?

    November 11, 2015

    One of my favourite parts of the month now I am loving and working in the UK is the visit to Wotton Under Edge in Gloucestershire where the UK office is.


    It’s a very different place to Mwanza where I spent the past 10 years but as you can see, it’s beautiful, and I really enjoy coming here to work with our fabulous team.

    Because it’s tucked away in rural Gloucestershire, very few of our supporters and volunteers have been here. And for them it’s hard to picture just where all the work that we do comes from. Once of the views I hear a lot as I travel is that Bridge2Aid must be a very cash rich organisation given our profile and how much they see of us in the dental industry and professional media. For those who are close to the organisation, they will tell a very different story – that the image we have is far greater than the size of the team and the resources we spend. In short, we do a lot with very little! The fact is that we present ourselves as well as we do thanks to the support and hard work that goes in to our marketing and communications, largely on a pro bono basis from companies like Barker PR, FMC, Dental Design and others. We also have a wide group of friends who avidly promote what we do on social media.

     We’re actually a very small operation in the UK, and one example of this is the office in Wotton. And this is it.


     Actually I’m being misleading! Because we actually don’t work in here, but in 2 small rooms around the back


    It’s in these two rooms that the entire operation works from. I work from home as does Jo our Programme Director in her 2-3 days a week. In fact there’s only one full time person working from here, the rest are part time, and include 3 volunteers. In all there are just 3.5 full time equivalents represented by 6 people who all have to be carefully scheduled to make sure there’s a desk space for them.



    So I hope what you pick up from this is that as an organisation, we achieve a great deal with what we have. Funds are used very carefully and the results we achieve and the image we have is not due to a large operation, but due to the gifted and committed people who work for us and with us, most of them volunteers or pro-bono.

    We very much need your support – rest assured we will use it well. And feel free to pop in if you are down this way!

  3. Bridge of Change

    October 27, 2015

    Last week I spent time in Birmingham at the NEC for the annual dental industry showcase. If you’ve never been, it is an exhausting three days where the internal environment of the show, the weird lighting, constant talking, and being on your feet for 14 hours a day all act in concert to leave even the most hardened sales rep spent by Saturday afternoon.

    However, it also great fun and a brilliant opportunity to meet up with the industry and individual supporters that make up the Bridge2Aid community. There are precious few opportunities for larger numbers of the people who make up the organization to be together, but this is one of them, and it is always good to see so many good friends who have done some outstanding things for Bridge2Aid.

    If you’ve been around Bridge2Aid I hope what comes across is that we are a community committed to genuine and lasting change. Relationships are to who we are, and that means we are driven by people. But we try not to be just another charity trying to do good, we are very much the bridge for a professional and industry community to make a long term and meaningful change in other parts of the world. The breadth and depth of experience of our leadership represents more that 40 years of actually living and working in East Africa, and really understanding the issues, and the appropriate (and strategic) responses. This is why we work differently to many other organizations that on the surface appear to be similar. Our goal is to go beyond the mistakes that authorities in the development field point to – of charities making inappropriate, unsustainable responses to the need they perceive, where they focus on technical or even basic treatment without training or capacity building, and failing to broaden access to emergency dentistry through their efforts.

    We’ve worked hard and consulted widely on our model and focus, and so it is hugely encouraging to gain support for it at the highest levels. It is not many groups who have former Health Ministers as Patrons, but we are fortunate to have Professor David Mwakyusa, Tanzania’s longest serving health minister, join us recently. Here is what he said;

    “As a medical practitioner, administrator and teacher; and during my time as Minister for Health and Social Welfare, I have been keenly aware of the damage and pain that oral diseases and lack of dental treatment cause in individuals and communities.Untitled

    “Bridge2Aid is a charity that I have witnessed making a tangible, long-term change in the health infrastructure in Tanzania. By training rural health workers in emergency dentistry skills Bridge2Aid is empowering local communities and by so doing making a difference.

    “I am proud to be associated with an organization that is promoting truly sustainable solutions with such passion and integrity.”

    Over the course of the showcase, I met many people who really want to do something to help. There is enormous goodwill in the profession in the industry to give something back. What excites me about what we do, is that we can turn that goodwill into something that doesn’t just do good, but actually brings about a change and a long term difference in the communities we are seeking to serve.

    Our vision has to be big enough to go beyond what we think is possible. We need to stop accepting that it will always be this way. Through the work of the Bridge2Aid community, we’ve already brought a huge amount of genuine change to thousands of communities across a wide area. There are parts of Tanzania and Rwanda where we will not have to work again because we have trained sufficient numbers of rural health workers to provide a sustainable, basic emergency dental service, as well as beginning the work of training the trainers, that will continue this long into the future.

    In the process, a community has emerged of a group of people who respond to this greater vision, of how things can be different, not just better for a short while. Of course, there is a small group of us who work for the organization and whose full time focus is to lead, to organize, to make things happen, but it is the volunteers, the fundraisers and the donors who make the impact possible.

    It was wonderful to see this community together last week, and have new members added to it, and it fills me with excitement and anticipation if what we will achieve in the next 12 months together.

  4. Who do you think you are?

    October 20, 2015

    One of my lasting memories of working in Tanzania is from the early days of establishing the Bridge2Aid emergency dental training programme.

    As was common in those days, I was often involved in driving along with Dr Samuel Kalongoji, the District Dental Officer in Magu to visit potential locations for training the local health workers. As is common in developing countries, the majority of the population lives in remote rural areas, and so these drives took us a long way off the beaten track.

    On this particular day we drove high into the hills above the shores of Lake Victoria’s southern coastline, to a village called Buhumbi. After picking up Samuel on the way, we drove for another 2 hours before arriving around 10am at the small dispensary – just a couple of cement block buildings on the outskirts of the one street village

    We were greeted as usual by the Clinical Officer in charge, and asked to sign the visitor’s book (a standard courtesy across Tanzania from rural dispensary to Ministerial office). Chatting to the Clinical Officer, who looked tired, Samuel asked him about how things were going. It turned out the reason for the Clinical Officer’s tiredness was an all night delivery the previous evening. Mother and baby were doing OK, but it had been a difficult procedure.


    It’s worth reflecting on the role these Clinical Officers have. Trained in basic medicine for 3 years, they are then deployed as the sole medically qualified person in a remote community of around 10,000 people. What this translates to in practice is they are the ones who will deliver babies at all hours of the night, diagnose and treat malaria, set broken limbs and deal with some very traumatic injuries caused by accident and disagreement – all done with no support, and a long journey from the nearest hospital.

    This is what led me to start describing the Clinical Officers we work with as local heroes. Because it’s how I see them – working largely alone and under resourced in remote areas, serving their communities capably and calmly at all hours of the day and night. It is a privilege to be able to serve them by giving them a skill which will transform quality of life and prevent dangerous complications for the hundreds of patients who come to them for help with urgent dental problems.


    But for me the whole Bridge2Aid community – our members in East Africa and the UK – is full of heroes. Because our volunteers and fundraisers are heroes too. In fact anyone who gives their time and money, their commitment, who sacrifices to help others is a local hero for me. Through the ways that they give, the example that they set, often at great personal cost, they become a person to look up to, a role model within the profession. This becomes particularly potent with Bridge2Aid because the volunteers and supporters who are part of our community are bringing long term transformation to the communities we serve in East Africa. I am particularly proud of what our newest Patron, Hon Professor Mwakyusa, the former Minister of Health in Tanzania has to say about us:

    ‘Bridge2Aid is a charity that I have witnessed making a tangible, long-term change in the health infrastructure in Tanzania. By training rural health workers in emergency dentistry skills Bridge2Aid is empowering local communities and by so doing making a difference.’

    I know that for some of our community this may feel uncomfortable – to be called a hero, when what they do is for wholly altruistic reasons. But when you listen to how I hear colleagues and patients, and others in the industry talk about what our volunteers do – the sacrifice, the time and money, the challenges of working in tough clinical environments and training someone to perform extractions safely in just 8 days – that makes them a hero in my eyes, and I am sure in the eyes of beneficiaries in East Africa.

    This week we will once again be at the BDIA Dental Showcase in Birmingham. It’s a million miles from the shores of Lake Victoria, and the pain and suffering the people endure on a daily basis for want of simple treatment we take for granted here. But it is from this event that I know we’ll meet many people who will be Bridge2Aid local heroes in the future.  I talk to so many people who want to use their skills, their money, their time, to make a genuine, long term difference, and as an organisation we are very much the ‘bridge’ to that opportunity. If you’d like to join us and become part of this international community committed to long term change, come and talk to us on Stand M65b. We’d love to see you.

    Mark Topley – CEO

  5. The Bridge2Aid Bash @ BDIA Dental Showcase 2015

    September 28, 2015

    Roll Up! Roll Up!
    Please come and support Bridge2Aid at our big and brash Bash!

    There will be crazy golf, hook-a-duck, a live band and a hot buffet. It’s a great opportunity for all the team to come and unwind and relax with friends (old and new).
    Great food, great company and a few drinks – all in a good cause. Come and join us!


    When and Where – Friday 23rd October @ Hilton Metropole Birmingham

    Times: 7:30pm – 1am

    Dress code:  Whatever takes your fancy

    Price: £35 per person (includes hot buffet dinner)


    calling us – on 0845 8509877

    emailing –

    See you there


  6. Our Fundraising Philosophy

    September 24, 2015

    In the light of the recent government commissioned review of charity fundraising we’d just like to reassure all of our supporters that we do not operate in any of the ways that have been brought to light as causes for concern in this report. Bridge2Aid is a small charity and we base all of our fundraising around relationships. We are supported by people who know what we do – and we care about those who are part of making our work so amazing.
    So we don’t buy in lists of contacts, we don’t cold call, we don’t do massive mail-outs, we don’t ask third parties to fundraise for us, we don’t employ door-to-door or street fundraisers, we don’t employ companies to phone you at the time of the evening when you’re just settling down to relax.
    But we are a charity. Without the support and donations that are given we would not be able to do the work that we do, and this work is vitally needed. So we do ask for money, we do try to engage people’s hearts and minds. We try to share stories and statistics to let people know why we are doing the work that we do, and how we are changing the landscape of oral health in some of the poorest parts of the world.

    It is impossible to overstate the importance of our supporters and we would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continued efforts, donations, fundraising and volunteering.

  7. News

    September 16, 2015

  8. The Big Skill Share Appeal

    September 14, 2015


    Today we’re launching our Big Skill Share Appeal.  It is the next milestone in our work – and we thought that you’d like to hear a little bit more about our plans and where we’re heading!
    Bridge2Aid has now provided access to safe emergency dental care to over 4 million people in Tanzania.  It’s a fantastic achievement.  We have done this with volunteers from the UK dental community training rural health workers. We are saving lives and freeing millions more from the prospect of misery and pain.  However we need to go further – and we have a unique plan. We’ve already taken a massive step in the right direction, but we need to take a great leap forwards because the rural population of Tanzania alone is 35 million people. Our Big Skill Share is a game changer, a huge next move. In essence it goes back to the story about the man and the fish. Give a man a fish and you’ve given him a meal – teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. We’re just taking it one step further – teaching the ‘fishermen’ how to teach others too!
    The Big Skill Share is Phase 2 of our model – we return to the District Dental Officers who we’ve been working alongside on our training programmes and give them the skills to teach emergency dental skills themselves. This is where we see our core value of sustainability really come to life. It’s a model that becomes self sufficient, and it’s the only realistic way that our work can tackle such a vast problem.

    Our model:
    PHASE 1 – Groundbreaking: UK dental volunteers begin training Tanzanian health workers in emergency dental skills
    PHASE 2 – The Big Skill Share: UK volunteers teach District Dental Officers how to train in emergency dental skills – ‘training the trainer’
    PHASE 3 – Sustainable Change: Tanzanian trainers train Tanzanian health workers emergency dental skills supported by Bridge2Aid expertise.

    This unique model means that training in emergency dental skills can become a rapid roll-out where millions and millions of people in some of the poorest parts of the world have access to vital treatment. As our programme takes off in Tanzania we are then able to offer training into more countries where there is an urgent need.
    The Big Skill Share is key to solidifying the success of our Tanzanian programme and we need your help to make it a reality. By donating to our great leap forwards you’ll be changing the lives of people in this country forever. With your contribution we can build on the training programmes we’ve already run and embed this change for good.
    Please help with our vital work by donating by the  pink ‘make a donation’ button at the top right of this page.  With your help we can help millions more out of pain.

  9. June 25, 2015

    Cross Morecambe Bay Walk with Cedric Robinson (Queen’s Guide to the Sands)

    Our friend Melanie Yates is organising a fantastic fundraising event for Bridge2Aid.

    It’s happening on Saturday 8th August 2015 starting at 12 noon from the Arnside Pier on Morecambe Bay.
    Approx length 7 miles
    Involves getting wet and having lots of fun!
    Further information available at Melanie’s website:
    Melanie says:
    “I hope all my friends and supporters will join me for a cross bay walk led by Cedric Robinson on Saturday 8th August. The walk will start in Arnside close to the pier at twelve noon sharp and finish near Kent’s Bank railway station. The walk is approximately 7 miles and takes 3-4 hours. Be prepared for an amazing experience – walking across the bay with unrivalled views towards the Lakeland hills, joined by a group of people all with a common purpose is very rewarding whatever the weather!
    Cedric can take 500 people, so the more the merrier. Spread the word and bring along as many people as you can to join in. Dogs seem to enjoy it to although can get confused by the lack of normal doggy smells to guide them on their way.”
    You can support the event on Melanie’s Just Giving page or donate on the day.

  10. The end of another Great National Smile Month

    Another National Smile Month drew to a close last week.

    There have been the usual fantastic efforts by the BDHF (British Dental Health Foundation) and many many others around the country to raise awareness of the importance of oral health and to educate people on how to care for their mouths.

    There was lots of fun, lots of smiley faces, and lots of positive messages and images out there on social media and the web.

    And yet the message isn’t getting through.

    Reports of increasing numbers of children requiring significant help caused by poor oral health are on the rise. Barely a week goes by without another story of an under 10 year old child in hospital for a full clearance.

    Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 13.40.08Diet, and sugar in particular, is the issue. Whether it’s parental ignorance, apathy or simple neglect, far too many children are affected and in pain in the UK.

    Of course, dental caries is the most common disease in the world – and just as common in Tanzania.

    This week I spoke to an international foundation looking to change oral health behaviour within this neglected group of children – rural communities in developing countries.

    But even this organisation was stunned at the level of sugar consumption in Tanzania in the rural areas, and what it leads to.

    Because the basic difference between the UK and places like Tanzania is:

    • Understanding – there isn’t any knowledge of the causes of dental disease
    • Education – there isn’t any teaching on how to prevent dental problems
    • Treatment – there isn’t any access to even essential, pain relieving dentistry in rural areas where most people live

    What this results in is a devastating situation where there is no understanding of the causes of oral diseases, no education to prevent it, and crucially (the difference between the west and places like Tanzania) no-one to help when the resulting disease strikes.

    And so, back to the UK.

    Despite the various attempts by many agencies to change behaviour in the UK there seems to be a continuation of the poor choices by parents and children that lead to the consequences described above. Maybe it’s time we changed tack on the message that we present. I’m all for being positive, but when being positive isn’t having an effect, perhaps we need to turn to alternative methods. The anti-smoking campaigns used in the past picturing the lungs of diseased individuals and some of the other impacts that smoking has on the body have been effective. Maybe it’s time we started to use some of these images in oral health promotion as well. If parents and carers are not taking notice of the smiley faces and positive attempts to prevent oral diseases, and continuing to put children in pain, then perhaps an alternative approach is needed.