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Stories from Kenya

September 8, 2016

The Kenya group – Our Thoughts

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you take 7 dental students and 2 faculty members 7,777 miles away from Ann Arbor to the lush, green lands of Kenya. We were physically far from from our dental school, but the people of Kenya made us feel right at home with their hospitality and kindness. Our team of 9 had the goal of working with Kenyan oral health professionals, teachers and students to create sustainable oral health in the schools we visited. We were fortunate to pair our University of Michigan team with a team of experienced and knowledgeable Kenyan dentists and dental technologists in order to make an impact on the oral health of the roughly 2,200 primary school aged children we had the fortune of seeing. It was important to our group to not just go and work for two weeks, but to use those two weeks to help create an environment of sustainable oral health. To accomplish that, we provided toothbrushes and toothpaste, and taught and reinforced oral hygiene to the children. We performed oral exams and handed out dental referral forms to the children’s parents and teachers. During these long days, we would usually leave at 7am, travel almost 1.5 hours, then work nonstop until 6pm, when we had our 1.5 hour trek home. We were so tired when we got back – even eating dinner was a challenge. Additionally, on our “days off” we shadowed and learned from the dentists in a local hospital and had a meeting regarding collaborations on head and neck cancer with the health sciences faculty of the Meru University of Science and Technology. Although our days were filled with lots of hard work, we still found time to have fun. We also got to enjoy the tasty cuisine of Kenya, explored the Samburu National Park and its plethora of wildlife on Safari, and always found time to talk to, dance with, sing, and play soccer with the children of the schools we visited. To the people we came across in our trip to Meru, Kenya, we are honored to say, “Asante Sana!” (Swahili for “Thank you very much!”)

Teddy Eusebio – Running in Kenya

Being an avid runner, I was absolutely excited to visit Kenya not just for the dental aspect of the trip, but for the chance to run in a country where there is a rich tradition for running excellence. At 5,300 feet above sea level, I was excited for the opportunity to tap into the high altitude training that my favorite Kenyan runners experienced themselves. I would wake up most mornings at about 6:30am so that I could get a 4-6 mile run in before we had to leave for our dental service trips. It was on these 30-45 minute runs where I got to experience my favorite part of Kenya. These runs would take me through dirt packed roads as I passed by farms and lush green forest that bordered the Meru national park. It was on these runs that I would exchange a friendly hello, “Mambo” (Swahili for “Hey!”) or a “Poa” (Swahili for “cool!”) from those I came across. It was on these runs that I would pass by children on their way to school and receive high fives and engage in friendly foot races. It was on these runs that I fell in love with Kenya.

Matthew Nye – The Soccer Match

This was my second time in Kenya, so I wasn’t surprised to find the people in Kenya to be full of spirit and enthusiasm. However, I knew we were going to have some new, fun experiences, and this year’s trip fulfilled that. My favorite memory from the trip occurred after a long day of oral exams for the students of St. Dorothy’s Primary.  The students were finishing up from their day of school and unbeknownst to them, we had brought a few soccer balls to give them before we left. After handing them out, immediately they wanted to form teams and play with us! So we began playing together, and I thought to myself “I should be careful, these are pretty young kids”, because growing up, I had played a little bit of soccer in grade school. However, at St. Dorothy’s Primary in Kenya, I really felt like an amateur! We ran together, played defense together, and passed the ball to each other cohesively, and some of the kids showcased their skills. These 8-14 year old kids were playing like pros. In Kenya, soccer is a not just a sport, but a way of life. So after about 20 minutes of playing (yes that’s all I could muster), I was beaten. My team was doing great, however I had no energy left – I blame the elevation. For the remainder of the match, I sat on the sidelines, tired, but feeling great. We had something in common, and the kids knew it. Though we seemed so different when we arrived, it became clearly evident that we were not. These kids were just like us; fun-loving, ambitious, and fiercely competitive, it just took a game of soccer to realize it.

Leen Khatib – Singing Kenyan Songs

My favorite memory was on one of our long work days, after getting up at 6am and seeing kids at Leeta Primary in the beautiful mountains on the slopes of Mount Kenya.  After seeing kids all day we decided to go out and have a little fun with them. They were shy and timid around us, mostly, as they had never met anyone that wasn’t Kenyan before. But after hours of screenings and treatment, we went out there anyway and they circled around us, curious. They probably wanted to know so many things; why we were there, why our clothes were so different, and why we looked different. Unfortunately, they couldn’t speak English in this part of Kenya (English is only taught in the affluent areas), so we could only communicate through song, dance, and soccer. So that’s what we did. We played soccer, tried to learn some of their songs, and ran around with them. So I started singing a “Kenyan nursery rhyme” (or so I was told), trying to learn the words, and the kids were laughing because I was saying them all wrong. But after a while, I started to get it, and they begin to gather around, probably a group of about 100. They ended up all around me, singing and laughing together, communicating without a common language, bringing together two different worlds in a matter of 15 minutes. They giggled, laughed, and smiled like I hadn’t seen before. After all, kids are kids, anywhere in the world.

Sara Safdari – The Happy Girl

It always had been a dream of mine to go to Africa for a mission trip, so when the opportunity came, I could not resist it. The most memorable part of the trip for me was being in the culture with the people. Every day was a learning experience for me. As I immersed myself to learn more about the culture, language, and the people, I met Johnston. Johnston is from the Masai tribe, but lives at the Samburu safari. Here Johnston taught me about his tribe and the Samburu tribe.  I learned that Masai and Samburu people are actually from the same tribe, but they separated and the Masai people moved to south part of Kenya. However, they speak the same language and they have the same culture. Johnston is a Masai warrior. He explained to me how as a child you get selected to become a warrior and what kind of life conditions you have to live in to get the title of warrior. In the tribes the women don’t have the same rights and voice as man do. Here is when Johnston learned about our cultures. I explained to him that I’m in the same class and do the same things as the guys who are in our group. We are learning the same things and doing the exact same work, and we are treated equal. He could not wrap his mind around it. He was intrigued, and wanted to learn more about our culture. I explained to him how as young girl I had the same education privilege as the boys did. We sat in the same classrooms, played the same games, and took the same exams. Johnston also was shocked to learn that America is a big melting pot, that there are all different races with in America. This experience not only allowed me to learn about the culture but also to teach others regarding our culture. During this conversation Johnston gave me a Maasai name: Nashipae, which means “happy girl.”

David Li – Amani House

Traveling to Kenya ranks up there as one of the best memories of my dental school career. One of my favorite memories is visiting the Amani Home, a children’s orphanage that provides a home and school for orphans or children whose families cannot care for them. The orphanage was built with a holistic, self-sustaining goal in mind through craft making, farming, and livestock. The place was exuberant with an air of serenity and tranquility. I felt at peace and relaxed during my time there. It was a joy playing with the children, and discovering the quiet beauty of the surrounding land. The children are so fortunate to have access to such a blessed environment. I will always cherish my time at the Amani Home. Kenya is a beautiful country.

To see a full set of pictures from the Kenya Summer Research Program trip, check out the Flickr photo album @

For more information about the Kenya Summer Research Program, check out our headline story @

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