When Mel and I received the opportunity to “getaway” from the daily routine of work, home, eat, sleep, etc., we excitedly worked around our schedules in order to venture out to Maasai Mara and help out at the Maasai Dental Clinic (MDC). Mel knew about this clinic from his colleagues while he was at LLUSD who volunteered some years back.
Brief history about MDC:
It was founded by Dr. Ray Damazo and his wife Gail Damazo. The clinic became operational on December 20, 2008. For 3 years (2010-2013), the National Association of Seventh-day Adventist Dentists (NASDAD) operated this clinic until Dr. Jim Libby and his wife Pam Libby took over the leadership role from 2015. A teaching center was built which offered school programs, English classes, Momma and Baby clinics for the Maasai people. The clinic is currently funded by the World Health Dental Organization (WHDO), a nonprofit organization based in U.S.
After getting approval from my charge nurse for a 2 week leave, I was ecstatic! The thought of being back at the Mara and especially during this time of the Great Migration or high season gave me all the more reason to start packing after my last shift at work.
Despite the pandemic, it was great to be on the road again. Fun fact: There are now paved roads leading up to the main entrance (Sekanani gate) of Maasai Mara National Reserve! No more headaches or feeling nauseous from the bumpy dirt rough roads.
The sun had already set by the time we arrived at the clinic on Friday, August 21st. William, the manager of MDC, showed us to our room and how to operate the stove oven and answered other questions we had. We had a quick fix dinner of beans, eggs, and toast before heading to bed.
On Sunday, we woke up at 7am and went on a game drive. William drove us around the Maasai Mara National Park and our private game drive was amazing! In less than 3 hours, Mel and I saw most of the Big 5 except for the leopard and rhino. This was probably the best game drive we’ve been on so far. Kudos to William for an awesome experience!
We started our Monday morning with prayer with the MDC team thanking God that we’re able to reopen the clinic again. Due to the pandemic, international flights were not allowed to fly in since March so those that had scheduled to volunteer from overseas couldn’t come. As a result, this clinic has been without a dentist since mid-March. Mel saw only 8 patients the first day. William said more will come, as word gets out. Here in Maasai, everything is by word of mouth. It was interesting to see some people pointing at their teeth as a sign they wanted their teeth checked as we drove to the Maasai open market, which only happens on Mondays. However it rained and our time there was cut short. We just bought what fruits and vegetables we needed for the week and left.
Tuesday was a busy day! Mel treated 18 patients. I even took care of 2 patients! One was a boy who fell down while he was playing and a man who was involved in a MVA. This boy had a wound that needed incision and drainage (I&D). He was truly a Maasai who showed no fear and even did the incision using the surgical blade himself! He wouldn’t let me or his mom do it. I cleaned it up and placed a dressing. Told him he was very brave and advised him to return for another dressing but he never did. 😦
Next couple days were filled with watching Mel do extractions, place fillings, and the occasional prophy/full mouth scaling. I’d watch and then once each procedure was finished, I’d don my PPE and take the tray to the sterilization room to clean instruments and place them in this soaking solution.
We never got tired of watching monkeys, bushbuck deer grazing, and baboons outside the electric fence. One day, Mel was brave enough to try and get a closeup video of one of the baboons in the trash fire pit eating scraps of veggies and food. However, he almost got attacked by the male baboon as it chased him away. So scary!!! Later, we realized we could just fly the drone over the baboon from a safe distance. It didn’t seem to mind.
The best part of staying at the clinic was the food! Dennis and William cooked us lunch and dinner as Siana Springs tented camp did not have much guests due to the pandemic. Sometimes we would get special treatment and a chef from the Siana Springs tented camp would come and cook for us! One of the chefs even showed us how they made their soft bread buns from scratch. It’s like the African version of Filipino Pandesal! We were so spoiled and there was always too much food.
We spent our Sabbath and weekend enjoying God’s creation. Just being immersed to the sounds of birds chirping and the animals adding to the symphony brought a sense of calmness despite the horrible news happening all over the world.
Oh and we finally saw a leopard! We can now say we’ve seen the Big 5 during our time here in Kenya. It was a rare sight to see a leopard trying to take a nap while all the safari jeeps circled around it. We even saw a momma cheetah and 2 cubs. God truly made that weekend extra special.
Back to the grind… it was another busy Tuesday! It started as a good day… (read Mel’s post below)
Late that afternoon there were only a few patients left waiting to be seen. I was seated on the chair next to the Stereo/CD machine, switching up the music. Suddenly I heard Mel yell, “Does anyone have orange juice or something sweet??? Maureen grab the chocolate upstairs!” Confused as to why Mel demanded these things, I looked at his patient and saw she had fainted. I quickly ran upstairs to grab the chocolate spread/Nutella and gave it to Mel. Then Mel quickly smeared chocolate inside her mouth. We took her outside and safely placed her side-lying position. The staff and Mel prayed with the remaining patients who were waiting outside and after about 40minutes, she thankfully regained consciousness. William gave her some milk which we mixed with some bananas and chocolate for her to drink. After she was better, William took her and her relative to the clinic nearby for further follow-up treatment. From this experience, I learned that situations like this can happen not only in a hospital setting but anywhere and at any time. Who knew someone can become hypoglycemic/dehydrated and pass out on a dental chair! But God is good! William reported that she’s “100% ok”.
Out of the forty-two tribes in Kenya, the Maasai tribe is very different yet one where their ceremonies, traditions and values should be preserved and appreciated for years to come. It’s interesting that most of them try their best to show no emotion especially if great work has been done to them. One of my favorite moments was this young man in his teens who Mel did some composite masking to hide his fluorosis stains on his anterior teeth. When he finally looked at the mirror he couldn’t stop smiling!
Despite Covid-19 shutting down the #maasaidentalclinic earlier this year, it was a huge blessing to help safely re-open the clinic and provide free emergency dental treatment and education to the 112 Maasai patients we saw in 2 weeks. We saw some odd things like thorns being used as pulpectomy/root canal/post material to keep primary teeth in place longer than usual and also some pleasant and joyful experiences seeing Maasai kids smile after initially being scared to do so. Rare moments like these is what we feel gives life meaning or purpose. Huge thank you to Dr. Doyle Nick, Carla Caldwell, Dr. John Barett, Dr. Dave Rempel and the #worldhealthdentalorganization for giving us this opportunity. Our experience here has forever changed our outlook in serving our fellow man, no matter our differences. We made such great friends here and this was a great opportunity that unfortunately was only made possible due to COVID-19. We wanted to stay longer and can’t wait to be back again.
Although it’s been challenging getting volunteer dentists to come due to the pandemic, we hope this post and highlight video below encourages those that are reading to be Christ’s hands and feet wherever you are in our broken world, until He comes again. Please continue to pray for the efforts of the MDC staff and World Health Dental Organization to get more volunteer dentists to come help provide free treatment to those that desperately need it.
VERSE OF THE DAY:“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” ~Matthew 9:38