GJ volunteers help African children with dental care
Miquette Gerber literally jumped at the chance to help children in Africa.
Gerber was attending a Sunrise Horizon Rotary Club meeting a few months ago when the club asked if anyone would like to volunteer to go on a trip with Medicine Arm-In-Arm to provide pediatric dentistry to South African children, a cause the club has donated to. Gerber had no experience with dentistry but she had been to Africa before and couldn’t wait to go back. She leapt up in her chair and immediately volunteered for the trip.
Gerber joined Grand Junction dentist Dr. Scott VanDusen and 15 other volunteers Aug. 1-18 in Dundee, South Africa, a small town in the eastern part of the country. The group of 17 set up a temporary dental clinic with three exam chairs, donated medical equipment and sanitation stations in a school. Students from that school and other schools in the area arrived for the five-day clinic to receive exams, tooth extractions and fillings. Elementary students also learned about oral hygiene in classes taught by older peers.
In all, 454 children received treatment and/or hygiene instruction. Dentists performed over 2,100 procedures while non-medical volunteers helped by sterilizing instruments or assisting dentists. Gerber coordinated where kids went in the clinic. She relied heavily on translators as some of the children spoke English or Afrikaans but most only spoke Zulu.
The clinic had a good turnout most days, except for one.
“It snowed the Tuesday of our clinic and it hadn’t snowed there in nine years, so that slowed things down,” Gerber said.
This was VanDusen’s fifth trip with Medicine Arm-In-Arm, a worldwide program a fellow dentist got him involved in when VanDusen was a dentist in southwest Iowa. He started with a trip to Russia and went back there three more times.
“Once you’ve been around those kids, you want to go again,” he said.
South Africa was a new experience. But the children there, as in Russia, were sometimes uncomfortable or scared during their dental treatments. But the children made a connection with the volunteers and didn’t want them to leave.
“Even though we did something that may have caused them discomfort, we connected with them,” VanDusen said.