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Volunteer Review: Piriyanga T., Dentistry in Kenya

Piriyanga with the children at a dental outreach

Although I was doing physiology in university, my interest has always been in the dental field. Dentistry is a very competitive course to get into and those who apply generally have some sort of experience in the field. Getting dental experience in Australia is not at all easy so I started doing some research online and that’s when I came across Projects Abroad. I sat and read the volunteer stories from EVERY project in EVERY country – I found it intriguing. To me, the whole idea of Projects Abroad was like killing two birds with one stone – I get to travel to Africa while also getting experience in my desired field.

Arriving in Kenya

Two flights and 20 hours later, I made it to Nairobi. For someone who had not traveled to a developing country in 18 years, the thought of eight weeks in Kenya was quite daunting. My fears soon faded away when I was greeted by a Projects Abroad staff member whom had awaited my arrival and took me to the hotel where I’d be spending the night. Just from my interactions with him and the hotel staff put me at ease – everyone was polite and assisted me with everything that I needed for the night. We left to Nanyuki the following morning.

My host family

My host mum, was everything I hoped she’d be and much more. She was kind, caring, strong, beautiful and most importantly, an amazing cook. From the moment I met her, I felt right at home. My first roommate did not arrive till about two weeks after my arrival. We both had so many common interests, including sleeping at 8pm. Another two weeks later, another girl joined us and the three of us were inseparable – it was nothing but laughter and joy with these two. One of our favorite dishes Josephine made was pilau with beef stew. It was so good that the girls and I would shameless help ourselves to three to four servings and sometimes even take it to work the following day.

My Dentistry Project

Piriyanga with the other dental staff in Kenya

I was assigned to work at a dental clinic in a hospital. There were two dentists, a dental technician and a dental assistant working there. Initially, I was shadowing the dentists and observing the dental procedures. However, as the weeks progressed, I was able to assist with the patient histories and making dentures with the dental technician. The only difficulty I faced whilst working there was the language barrier between the patients and myself. Most locals do not speak English and although I knew some Swahili, it was not enough to thoroughly interact with them. The dentists were nice enough to translate everything to me and keep me in the loop. An average day for me consisted of going to work at 8.30am till about 2.00-3.00pm, depending on how busy the clinic is, and then meeting the other volunteers back at the office. We’d often grab a bite to eat and then head home around 4.00pm.

Dental outreaches

The outreaches were one of my favorite parts about my whole trip. Every Wednesday or Thursday (sometimes both days), we participated in medical outreaches and care outreaches. For the medical outreaches, we handed out deworming pills to the children in schools and the locals living in the slums. We checked the vital signs, blood sugar levels and completed HIV testing for those above the age of 16. During the care outreaches, we visited local primary schools and educated the children about the importance of personal hygiene. We also handed out toothbrushes and toothpastes for them to take home – their happy, smiling faces and gratefulness made my heart smile.

Free time

I did not spare any weekends. I went to the Samburu village and safari on my first weekend with two other volunteers, followed by a trip to Nakuru and a stopover at Thompsons Fall. We spent two nights in Nakuru and visited Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo. I climbed Mount Kenya to the viewpoint, visited the Giraffe Center, watched baby elephants get fed at David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust and had delicious food at a meat buffet called Carnivore. I also managed to fit in another safari at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where we had the opportunity to feed a blind rhino, and visited the Animal Orphanage TWICE – I have zero complaints and regrets.

Final thoughts

If you are considering joining Projects Abroad, just do it. It has been a life altering experience for me to say the least. If you are struggling with what destination to choose for your project, reach out to the advisor (they are always willing to help) and ask for their opinions given your circumstances. I had initially chosen to volunteer in Tanzania but later changed to Kenya as I was informed the dental department in Tanzania was very quiet and I would not be gaining as much experience as I had hoped.

Kenya has taught me so much in the two, short months I was there. I have learnt to be selfless, humble and grateful. I have made life-long friends from all over the world and now have even gotten myself a second mum. Thank you for the wonderful life lessons and adventures, Kenya. I cannot wait to come back.

Piriyanga T.

This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.

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