Volunteer stories: Uganda 2017: Perspectives of a Dental Student
As two fourth year dental students, traveling to Uganda with an inter professional team of
experts was the opportunity of a lifetime. No one could have prepared us for the many challenges we faced, and we still haven’t found words to describe the feelings after a hard day’s work. Working in the mountains of rural Uganda was no small feat, and every single clinic presented a new adventure. There were times when our power generator stopped working, the buses got stuck on slippery dirt roads, lightning delayed our efforts, or the line of patients never seemed to end. But under the leadership of Dr. William Cherniak and with an amazing team of volunteers, our experience with Bridge to Health left us with a sense of optimism and enthusiasm to continue challenging the limits of healthcare.
From the moment we stepped off the plane in Kigali, Rwanda, we were embraced by Dr.
Geoffrey’s booming laughter and the hospitality of the KIHEFO volunteers. Even before we
reached the compound where we would be staying, we could hear the school orchestra that
greeted us with singing, dancing, and warmth. The collaboration between Bridge to Health and KIHEFO originated from the outstanding leaders of the medical and dental teams, which was held fast and steady throughout the rest of the volunteers.
Working in the field presented numerous challenges, but every member of the team was quick to jump in and offer support and creative solutions. This teamwork made it possible to achieve our short and long term goals in what seemed to be an impressively efficient manner considering the size of the team. From the delicious home-cooked meals, accommodations, travel to and from the sites, and the set-up of our mobile clinics, everything and everyone worked together like a well-orchestrated symphony. We as volunteers tip our hats toward our role models and leaders from Bridge to Health and KIHEFO. No one could have expected to be treated as well as we were during our stay in Uganda: treated as a family.
Since the trip ended, we have kept in touch with our Ugandan family through social media, various social events, and really any reason we can find to get together, including a recent presentation of the brigade at the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry. Upon taking the stage in the auditorium, we were surprised to see members of the team smiling back at us from the front row - they had actually closed their dental office
for the rest of the day just to be there. It was hard for us to transition back into the strictly regimented school clinicsand study routine after being trained to work independently and creatively in the field. Drs. Barzilay and Behrooz made our day and turned a lot of heads by visiting us in the undergraduate clinic at school; we also received an overwhelming amount of love and encouragement from the team leading up to our national dental board exams, which were merely weeks after the brigade. These are just a few testaments of the support and camaraderie you find only in the most special of teams...those that resemble a family.
Ever since we’ve returned, we have been counting down the days until we go back to Uganda. It’s been a challenging and busy time for us with board exams, finishing dental school requirements, graduating, and moving onto the next stages of our lives. Even though we’ve all gone our separate ways, we’re looking forward to meeting up again soon in Uganda.
Sean St Louis and Chetna Mistry are recent graduates of the University of Toronto Faculty of
Dentistry. Dr. St Louis is currently working in a private dental practice in Thunder Bay, Ontario,
and Dr. Mistry is completing a general residency at Texas A&M University in Dallas, Texas.
They are looking forward to a reunion with the rest of the team in Uganda for the 2018 brigade.