I've been wanting to post a blog about our dental service trip to the island nation of Tonga that we did this past summer. In January this year, myself and seven other classmates began planning for a ten-day dental humanitarian trip to Nuku'alofa, the main island of Tonga. Our preparations included coordinating with humanitarian foundations, fundraising and gathering donations of dental supplies to bring with us on our short journey.
All the time and effort to plan this trip paid off once we arrived and began to treat the good people of Tonga who are known for their friendliness, hospitality, and relaxed way of life. We worked in a crowded seven-chair clinic operated year round by visiting volunteer dentist. The people we treated were very greatful for the the service we rendered. In fact, news of our service spread quickly as we were met with lines of people waiting for treatment every morning. Tonga is a country with very little dental education and much less access to care than we are used to here in the United States.
Some of the highlights aside from the dental work we provided included early evening voyages to various locals around the island. We were fortunate to have access to an old beater van in order to get around the island after we finished a full days work. To give you an idea of the size of this island, it took about 40 minutes to get from one end to the other driving about 30mph on almost entirely narrow bumpy roads. One afternoon some locals piled us all onto a small beat up fishing boat to a neighboring island about a mile or so away. This little island about the size of a couple football fields was covered with palm trees, coconuts, and beautiful white sand beaches with the most amazing prestine sea-life and coral formations just off shore. Needless to say, this was an amazing experience.
During school breaks many Dugoni students and faculty have participated in various dental humanitarian trips to locations such as Fiji, Peru, Galapagos, the Philippines and now Tonga. These humanitarian trips provide an opportunity to not only experience and learn from other cultures but they also enhance our sence of volunteerism back at home. After students have an experience of serving a people in need, I feel that they may become more inclined to volunteer time and effort back home in their own communities. My experience in Tonga helped me internalize the need for oral health care that exists no matter where you are in the world. Whether at home or abroad, there are portions of every community with limited access to care who are in need of oral health care. The more important question is what are we going to do about it as the future generation of oral health care providers?