South Africa Project, Part 4: Volunteer Experience

The South Africa oral care project had a great impact on the Ndebele Kingdom, and as a result, 983,000 children will benefit from it. Volunteers of the oral care program also found the project to be enlightening and rewarding. We interviewed dental hygienist Karen Hall, to find out about her experience volunteering in South Africa.

What prompted you to join this project?

I learned about Humble Smile Foundation after reading a post by Dr. Darren Weiss, president of HSF. We connected via Skype and I decided I wanted to commit to the organization, starting with being a member of the team.

What were your days in South Africa like?

One of the most interesting things we did was look at the entire community, and the elements within the community, which make the community function. By assessing the school, as well as partnering with the Department of Health and Education, we learned that grandparents played a large role in the home, the school and the community. So in addition to surveying the kids in school, we also evaluated their home life and community life. We were able to participate in educational and cultural outings, which enriched our appreciation of the Ndebele people and their culture.

What did you like most about the project?

I had no idea I would have been called on to help plan a conference and create the sort of program we created. That was the most rewarding and the most difficult, all in one!

Why do you think projects like this are important?

As team members, we broaden our worldview, learn to work with similarly trained people from all around the world and appreciate the challenges of helping others. The partnering country can learn from the expertise we can provide, change daily habits that are contributing to disease, and feel valued and honored. I had never been on a humanitarian aid project, which placed so much honor on the host country and people.

How did this trip change your perspective?
Just because a country is disadvantaged in health care does not mean they are disadvantaged in life- these were happy thriving children! I have new friends in parts of the world I would never have previously wanted to visit, and I can’t wait to go see them and see their beautiful countries!

What is your takeaway and message to others?
The methodology and approach to humanitarian dental aid to underdeveloped countries should emulate what Humble Smile Foundation does. Through humility and a mindful approach to learning about the entire community, we can make a more sustainable and effective health improvement change.

After volunteering for the South Africa oral care project, Karen Hall has been invited to do a TED talk at the 95th annual American Dental Hygienists’ Association conference, the largest event dedicated to dental hygienists. She will be sharing her experience with dental professionals later this month!