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  1. 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


  2. 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.”


  3. 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?


  4. 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.

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    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!


  5. 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.


  6. Jo’s return to Mwanza

    November 30, 2015

    On the 30th June this year I had my final day working in our Mwanza office before me and the family moved back to the UK. It was an odd day as I knew I would be working with the team again and continuing to oversee all of our work in Tanzania, but knowing I wouldn’t see the team everyday was the hard part. The week before was full of final meetings and conversations wrapping up how everything was progressing and final tweaks here and there.
    Then the day came on 7th July for us to leave and have a well needed break for the summer. I knew I wouldn’t hear from the team again until 1st September. I left confidently knowing they were equipped to get on with what they needed to.
    Our UK move took place and summer passed and 1st September crept up on me. I was excited to be back at work and back in touch with the team. It took me a while to work out our new way of working and communicating via Skype rather than face to face. I soon realised that it didn’t matter that it was taking me a while to adjust as they were all doing fine and although pleased to have me back they had all done an amazing job whilst I had been having some time off and they had all stepped up and got on with it.
    Since then we have established a great way of working and although it’s not the same as being in the same office – it’s ok. When I left in July I promised the team I would be back, so when November snuck up on me I was beginning to get excited about heading back to Mwanza. I was also a little apprehensive of what I would find, and how I would feel. Have they actually been doing the great job I thought they had or was I going to find some unexpected cracks? I returned from Mwanza last week and am so pleased to say that I had absolutely no reason for concern, they are all doing a great job and my three Managers, Jackie, Joyce and Grace with the support of Ian Stephens, have really stepped up and grown into their leadership shoes. It was such a fun week being with them again and it reenergised me for the next 6 months until I get to go back again. I left feeling very proud and with the knowledge that moving back to the UK was the right thing which has allowed them to step up and fulfil their roles as leaders. I’m delighted that they don’t need me to be present every day, I’m proud that they fully represent B2A and our values and am encouraged by how others spoke of their leadership and ownership of the organisation. One person said to me ‘they are continuing to lead and run the organisation as you and Mark would want’. Those words meant a great deal.
    So I continue to work closely with them all, to guide and oversee where necessary and to lead but from afar. For now I am grateful and thankful for the time we have had over the last 10 years and the growth we have seen for individuals and the work that we do.

    Mwanza Team Christmas
    This picture is us all having a bit of early Christmas fun!


  7. 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.

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    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.


  8. 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.

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    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.

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

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    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.

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    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!


  9. 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.


  10. 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.

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    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