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Kenya Day 4- A Time to Shine

June 25, 2012

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Today was busy!  Our agenda consisted of oral hygiene instructions, water purification system installments and a quick dental survey and oral exams at Gichunge Primary School.  And this was only the first half of the day.

Toothbrushes were passed around to all the children, and toothpaste was given to their teachers.  Our intent is to establish oral hygiene as part of normal daily activity during school in the hopes of increased compliance.  Teacher acceptance is required for such a program to be successful, and after explaining to them our plans they were very supportive.  After that initial hurdle came the actual oral hygiene education in the classroms.  I think all of us can think of lectures where the lecturer repeatedly tried for classroom participation and was given a response of complete silence.  This was the case today, and if anyone has ever personally experienced this then you can sympathize for how awkward it can be.  To the children’s credit, however, I think that if a bunch of of mzungos (local term for white people) stepped into your classroom and maybe this was the first time in your life seeing a white person, or any foreigner for that matter, then you may be silent and shy too.  It was difficult to know if the class fully understood what you were telling them even with a translator present.  They were perfectly still and quiet.  This strategy was clearly not working.  We then broke the class up into small groups and essentially repeated what we had gone over previously.  Much better.  Small group work allowed us to have the children show us how they brush their teeth at home and gave us a better opportunity to give them some modifications.  One particular student was exceptionally bright.  His name is Newton.

Newton is a 15 year old in Standard 8 (aka 8th grade) with plans to enter the military when he completes school.  Our own Doug Fujawa recognized Newton’s talents and invited him to work with us during our surveys and dental exams.  This thoughtfulness on Doug’s behalf warmed my heart. If Doug ever applies for any specialty program please accept him.  You won’t be sorry.  Newton wanted to enter the military because he thought that was his best career option.  Doug changed all this when he told Newton that he should go on to be a dentist.  Newton incredulously asked him if he was “smart enough” to which Doug agreed.  This simple act of kindness had a huge impact. Newton was beaming with pride and seemed to carry a sense of renewed hope that was infectious to the other children which drew them towards him until we were all fully surrounded.  Doug worked with him one-on-one and taught him how to discern between stain and caries and Newton quickly caught on and became a valuable member to our team.  This has been the highlight of my trip hands down.  I think Doug just changed this kid’s life. 

The actual surveys and dental exams went off without a hitch.  The kids were understandably nervous, but so well behaved.  They sat in our chairs, opened up, and let us do quick two-minute exams.  We haven’t had time to look at our numbers yet, but it seemed that most kids had at least two carious lesions, and some had significant levels of decay.  What was the most impressive is that the severity of decay did not seem to correlate at all with pain levels.  If the kids did have any dental-related pain, they did not show any sign of it. 

After a quick break for lunch, we returned to Gichunge Primary School.  Jonathan Dzingle was the next to shine today.   He has researched inexpensive, efficient water purification systems that can be used at the local schools.  The topic of clean water is especially important.  Water-borne illnesses are common here and cause gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhea and secondary dehydration.  The water the children have to drink is brought in from a well and is a murky brown color.  Jonathan  today introduced a system using a couple of parallel plastic buckets that can be pressurized using a bicycle pump.  A ceramic filter separates the two buckets and in a short amount of time, you can have clean and clear water pouring into your cup.  Although this innovation is not targeted to any one particular person as in the case of Doug with Newton, the value of clean water can certainly help larger numbers of people and help reduce illness that can arguably impact school performance. 

One Comment
  1. June 26, 2012 9:41 am

    Great stuff. Improving oral hygiene is great; changing a young man’s life trajectory is a whole new level of amazing. Keep up the informative and interesting stories from Kenya!

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