Whenever I say I am going to visit Uganda for the Uphill Trust, those who know my profession immediately say, “Ah, you’ll be going to look after their teeth.”
In fact, as we have a school to build, the pupils’ dental health is only a very small part of my role as a charity trustee but it is one part I can never ignore.
The children at Uphill are generally from very poor rural homes and from my very first visit in 2015 they have taken me by surprise in many ways. On that visit I was asked to do an oral health and toothbrushing workshop with the P5 class. Arming myself with toothbrushes and plastic models of teeth, my first question was,
“Do you know how many times a day you should brush your teeth?”
Hands shot up and “two times” was the very quick answer.
Next question, “How long should you brush for?”
Quick answer again, “2 HOURS!! “ which was rapidly changed to two minutes after lots of laughs.
Next question, “Who has a toothbrush?” and only 3 kids in a class of 25 put up their hands.
They had the knowledge but not the means to use it.
What a good job I had a suitcaseful with me.
Fortunately, the average diet in rural Uganda is not full of the sugar, sweets and fizzy drinks whose effects are so disastrous in the UK. The rural Ugandans do eat a small amount of sugar, some raw from the sugar cane that they grow. Sweets are available in the shops along with Coke, Mountain Dew and other sugary fizzy drinks but for most these are too expensive to buy on a regular basis. Like us, they love cakes and biscuits but very much as treats. As for dental services in rural areas, they are virtually non-existent. At any rate, I haven’t found, or even heard of, a surgery yet.
On last Easter’s visit, armed with yet more toothbrushes, I was asked to do an impromptu oral health demonstration to the whole school, all 300 kids. Standing on the steps of the classroom block, and with the help of teacher Patrice to translate, we tried to get pupil Ronald to brush his teeth for two minutes. Despite the hilarity surrounding him, Ronald did a great job.
I didn’t actually have enough brushes to give to every child but promised I would get some more for the following day. I am not quite sure what the guys in the local supermarket, Andrews Brothers in Fort Portal, thought of the woman who came in to buy up their stocks of kiddies’ brushes at 7pm that evening. They were only 50p a brush, too, but even that is still way beyond the pocket of many of our families and not really high priority on their shopping lists.
After we returned from the latest trip I was contacted, out of the blue, by a delightful lady who asked if she could do something to help Uphill. Joan Harrison, a retired teacher, turned out to be a distant cousin I didn’t know I had! With great enthusiasm she organised a toothbrush appeal in her hometown and a bit beyond. Inside three weeks she had over 300 brushes donated by the lovely people of St Helens, Lancashire and Merseyside. These toothbrushes are now with me waiting for the next trip out to Uganda. Thank you, Joan, and all the wonderful donors who gifted these brushes. You are helping to keep clean smiles on these kids’ faces.
These kids’ delight at getting toothbrushes is lovely and here’s hoping their lovely smiles continue to be beautiful.
There is always one!