Before After

Although my time in Vietnam was hugely enjoyable and full of laughs and surprises, there was, as some of you know, a more serious side to the trip too.

Nurse Myra goes to Vietnam partly as a break from the Sydney winter but mostly to do volunteer work at an orphanage in Quang Ngai. I spent some of my time with her at the orphanage, and I thought I might tell you the story of the Dentist.

Children in Vietnam don’t get much in the way of dental care. Those of us who live in privileged Western societies mostly take for granted the fact that our teeth are not decayed, chipped, rotting or causing pain. In Vietnam, those things are part of everyday life. The kids at the orphanage do have some health care, but for reasons that are possibly cultural, dental care is not a priority in the Orphanage Scheme Of Things.

This year, Nurse Myra raised some money back home in order that a dentist be organized to examine the children and carry out any work required. I think she originally thought this would be an easy task to accomplish. As it turns out, it was full of obstacles. Politics, cultural misunderstandings and other orphanage ‘priorities’, along with language difficulties, conspired to make the visit to the dentist a lot more complex than simply booking an appointment.

Truly, if it had been me trying to get this done, I would have thrown in the towel. The extreme resistance that the orphanage administration showed to this generous act seemed to me to be simply baffling. Nurse Myra is a very patient and persistent person though, and it is to her great credit that after nearly four weeks of negotiation she managed to get most of the children (nearly 80 kids) thoroughly checked, and all their dental problems dealt with. It was a big task. Only two children required just a simple ‘clean’ – most of them had a lot more work than that. I can’t begin to tell you how ridiculously small an amount of money was needed to do this.*

The boy above is our Poster Boy†. There are not too many Before and After shots of any of the kids. It’s kinda hard to get Vietnamese children to smile for photos.

Maybe from now on though, the orphanage kids won’t feel so bad about it.

*Consider: a trip to the dentist for a child here in Australia, with, say, a couple of fillings and a clean would cost at minimum $50 (US). For 80 kids that’s $4000. It cost about a fifth of that.

†You all know that I’m a whiz with Photoshop, but you’ll have to trust me that I didn’t tinker with these shots.