Table of Contents
Report by Lynsey Tabrett
Each year, dental students are given the opportunity to follow dental pursuits outside of our usual clinical teaching setting. Electives may range from partaking in charity work in less economically developed countries to observing the latest techniques and technology in countries at the forefront of advancing modern dentistry. Thus, electives are an excellent opportunity for developing clinical and communication skills, helping worthwhile causes and also experiencing dentistry in different climates and cultures. For my elective, I was keen to travel and at the same time put my clinical dental skills to good use. In July 2007, I worked alongside the Degenhardt Foundation and eight other dental students providing emergency dental treatment for underprivileged children in South Vietnam.
Before investigating Vietnam, I knew little of the country besides a sad history marred by decades of bloody conflict. However, I was excited by the cultural delights and stunning landscapes Vietnam had to offer. Bordering Laos, Cambodia and China, Vietnam is influenced by a variety of nations, yet still retains its own distinct identity. Each year millions of visitors are drawn to Vietnam’s ancient monuments, scenic beaches, exotic cuisine and excellent shopping opportunities. I was no exception, and was eager to explore the country once my elective was complete.
The Degenhardt Foundation was set up in Vietnam in 2000 and is now directed by Joy MyLien Degenhardt. Joy, who was born in Vietnam and adopted by American parents, returned to Vietnam to oversee this non-profit humanitarian aid organisation. The Degenhardt Foundation strives to ‘improve life for children worldwide’ by organising emergency paediatric dental treatment, mobility training for the blind, boat building projects and setting up libraries and computer centres in some of the poorest parts of Vietnam. We contacted Hong (dental co-ordinator at the foundation) in September 2006, almost a year before we were to travel. However, for our project to be successful, careful planning was absolutely essential.
The Degenhardt Foundation was able to provide basic dental equipment, including an autoclave and a motor unit with a fast handpiece. However, a majority of our dental supplies were kindly donated by companies in the UK. We approached these companies at dental trade fairs and also by letter or email requesting equipment to help our project. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of these companies, who donated everything from gloves to temporary restorative materials to goody bags for the children (please refer to acknowledgements). Furthermore, the airlines we were travelling with generously waved the excess baggage charges for our flights into and out of Vietnam so that our supplies could be transported with our domestic luggage.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, South Vietnam, on a wet Sunday afternoon in late July. Despite the weather, the chaotic energy of this exciting city was humbling. A sea of mopeds, each carrying two, three and even four passengers at a time, weaved effortlessly through the brightly lit streets. Restaurateurs and shop owners enticed foreign faces in to feast upon freshly cooked noodles or purchase locally manufactured products. However, we were to discover the next day that Ben Tre and Binh Dai (the towns where we were to set up clinics) could not have been more different to Ho Chi Minh City.
Travelling away from Ho Chi Minh City, the landscape dramatically changed from the grey of the high-rise hotels and malls to the lush green of the Mekong Delta.
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Vietnam Photo Journal
by Don Funk