Each year, Bupa Dental UK offer dental nurses the opportunity to volunteer in Tanzania, supporting Bridge2Aid’s rural training programme. Bridge2Aid provides health workers with the key clinical skills, equipment and expertise to better perform day-to-day dentistry. Merran Fraser, Learning and Development Coordinator, Bupa Dental UK, shares her experience of facilitating the scheme, and working with the nurses in the lead up to and during this life-changing experience.
Tell us about your role at Bupa and why you think it is important to support employees to volunteer?
My role within Bupa Dental UK is all about our people development and I think volunteering helps employees develop themselves. But, it also gives people the opportunity to stop and reflect about what they have in life, and what perhaps other people don’t have. Volunteering encourages individuals to feel grateful about being able to make a difference in someone else’s life. Sometimes people need help and when we can help them, this builds communities and makes a positive difference.
How does the programme work?
We've had a relationship with Bridge2Aid since 2014, and each year we send three qualified dental nurses to support Bridge2Aid’s initiative. The volunteering placement is fully supported by Bupa, including covering any required vaccinations, visas and expenses. But, each nurse is asked to fundraise £1,500 before they travel to Tanzania. This money contributes to the training of one rural health worker, which costs £5,000.
What type of work do the volunteers get involved with once they get to Tanzania?
Over two weeks, the nurses visit two sites in the Shinyanga region and work within a team of 11 people, including clinical leads, dentists and other health members from the UK. Once they are there, they tend to undertake two jobs: the first is cross infection control, which is all about teaching the Tanzanian health workers about sterilising instruments when there are only basic tools to work with. The tools we have in the UK are often not available in Tanzania.
The second role is oral health education. The clinical officers in Tanzania are often responsible for whole-body health, not just oral health. It’s about equipping the officers with the education so they know how to treat basic oral health cases. In Tanzania, we’ve found that people often tend to ignore a dental issue until they need to go to hospital. Whereas if the clinical officer knew how to deal with something simple, they could prevent a serious condition in which an individual may have to take time off work. This would have a huge impact on their family and their overall physical and mental health.
What feedback have you received from the volunteers?
It’s life-changing, that’s the bottom line. For the volunteers, it gives them a completely different perspective of the world - most of the nurses have never been to Africa before. We want to provide an opportunity where they experience something completely new, so it opens their view of what is possible. Going back to basics seems to make the volunteers feel happier, in a professional and personal sense. A lot of the volunteers say they can’t wait to go back. One nurse recently told me she’s planning on returning to Tanzania as a volunteer in 2020.