Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Top Ten Matabeleland Miracles from Imvelo's Mobile Dental and Optical Safari 2017

From a discussion around the campfire at Bomani Tented Lodge many years ago, to our first Mobile Dental Safari in 2011, this our 7th year was without a doubt the biggest and best yet. The number of patients treated in a little under a week was just over 4,000, while our first year was 1174!

But it’s not just about the numbers – the event has evolved into so much more than annual dental care for villagers. We now have an optical component that this year was larger than the dental, and we added a number of other different new elements each providing relief to thousands.

Read below our top 10 highlights or what we call miracles, from this year's smile safari! We hope you enjoy reading all about it as much as we enjoyed being part of this incredible team and the truly amazing work they performed in some of the most remote parts of Zimbabwe! This epitomizes everything Imvelo stands for and we feel humbled, proud and inspired to continue with this life changing work in the years to come!

Here our Top 10 Matabeleland Miracles for Mobile Dental and Optical Safari:

Dr Gilbert Moyo, hard at work
1: Where eye surgery is required
This year we provided the first surgical ophthalmological component in response to what we’ve seen in our communities in previous years. Our team was joined by gifted young Zimbabwean ophthalmologist Dr Gilbert Moyo from United Bulawayo Hospitals who diagnosed patients in need of eye surgery. Our first patient Goodnight Sibanda, has already had a successful operation that was urgent, paid for by D3 Foundation. We are in the process now of raising money for more than 100 other patients Dr Moyo identified as requiring eye surgery.

New spectacles! 
2: Clear sight for old and young
Our optometry team that last year comprised two Spaniards was overwhelmed by the number of people needing spectacles. So this year we grew the team by two more Spaniards as well as two Zimbabweans from Bulawayo optometrists John McMinn & Co. We equipped them with state of the art eye testing equipment paid for by money raised by Smile is a Foundation, and even this much stronger much better equipped team could barely cope with the demand that came forward. They treated over 1900 patients, a large number of them older people requiring two sets of specs for reading and distance, as well as hundreds of sunglasses to protect eyes from our harsh sun.

Some of the new dentist heros at work!
3: More experts volunteer their services
Our team has almost doubled since our first year in 2011, but most gratifying is the number of Zimbabweans volunteering to work with us and the number of new enthusiastic young faces in the Spanish and Italian team. Some of the original veterans are facing increased family and work commitments which have made it more difficult to travel every year, so they have carefully selected new faces that can replace them in years when they are unavailable. By expanding the team, pressure on individuals to join us every year is relieved.

Larger buses made transporting patients more efficient
4: Support from all over the world
Our wonderful donors continue to support our efforts as we’ve expanded and grown. Higher Life Foundation this year picked up the tab not only for airfares but also for a larger fleet of buses to move patients more efficiently over long distances. Smile is a Foundation raised a fortune to purchase equipment for the optometrists and dentists to make them more efficient and effective. D3 Foundation funds covered a host of expenses that included around 3000 litres of diesel, supplies for over 3500 meals served at the clinics, just over 4000 toothbrushes and tens of thousands of Ibuprofen and Amoxicillin. The list of our supporters is long and growing – we thank them all!

A new autorefractor for testing eyes in action
5: Better equipment for diagnosis and treatment
This year we deployed a significantly beefed up equipment list with our team... two new autorefractors (an electronic eye testing device) and a trial lens case, while our fillings department was thrilled with their irrigation and suction machine. The new equipment was provided by Smile is a Foundation.

These kids can now see the chalkboard! 
6: Lives changed, futures brightened
Every year we are overwhelmed with the stories of the individuals whose lives we change - the young mother who had tears in her eyes when one of our dentists removed the two extraordinary incisors of her 10 week old baby that had made breast feeding almost impossible. The young kids left out of school because of a supposed learning disability, fixed with a simple pair of spectacles. The old people terrified of falling because they can’t see, suddenly able to see far and then with a second set of specs to even read again.

Mouths who had never seen a dentist,
now have annual 1st world dental care
7: Reaching further out to neglected areas
Apart from taking care of the communities around our lodges, this year we wanted to push further into the communities on the remotest south western boundary of Hwange National Park, areas plagued by some of the worst poaching we have had to deal with. We warned our team that it would be long distances and long drives down to Dhlamini so we could send our buses deep into Chief Siphosa’s area – not a murmur of complaint from any of them. And here as expected the mouths we looked into that day reminded us of the mouths that we experienced in our first years closer to home: terrible and massive multiple infections; multiple extractions per mouth; huge abscesses; thin, scared kids with debilitating tooth aches. But when we left there late and exhausted on that Thursday evening we were unanimous in our agreement to return every year to that most remote and neglected part of our country.

A photo of every mouth as part of
individual records at Ngamo school
8: Programming long-term health benefits
At Ngamo Primary and Secondary Schools, a file was opened on each individual, capturing their dental and sight records so that in the years ahead their specific needs can be catered for. The plan is to engrave in young minds the importance of eye health and oral health; annual intervention will include checking eyesight, providing spectacles where needed, and providing sunglasses to everyone to prevent eye disease caused by over exposure to the strong African sun.  In the dental department all mouths will be checked, cavities filled, rotten teeth extracted and root canal done when needed. On top of that every 6 months new tooth brushes will be provided, fluoride treatment applied and a 1 minute rinse with chloride with the help of our Ngamo teachers.

The kids from Chisuma School see Vic Falls for the first time!
9: Schoolkids see the Falls for the first time
A major part of putting the Dental Safari into the field every year is assembling the fleet of vehicles and drivers. This year, the day after our last clinic but before the buses set off back to their homes we decided to use them for something else. We realised that the majority of the kids at Chisuma School near Gorges Lodge had never actually seen the Victoria Falls themselves, even though they had grown up within sight of the spray column rising into the sky. We hatched the plan to use the Dental Safari buses to change that.  So on Sunday the 12th we took 388 Chisuma School kids and their teachers into the Victoria Falls National Park, and what a day it was. Despite the constant anxiety of the teachers keeping the kids safe and in straight lines, the well behaved children had as many pictures taken of them by other visitors as the Falls themselves that day.

The team at Nehimba Lodge. They did not check the
ele's teeth we're told
10: We spoil the team with a special safari
Part of the success of the Imvelo Mobile Dental and Optical Safari is when we do our bit to thank the volunteers for their hard work and the sacrifices they make to come and treat our communities - we take them on safari for a few days. This year their first day at Nehimba enabled us to show them some magnificent elephant at the Seeps, ‘Horse’ our remarkable lioness and her newest young cubs, and the incredible evening elephant show in front of the lodge. Then of course when we were at Bomani after we got back from Sipepa Hospital and were enjoying the sunset at Stoffie’s Pan the wild dogs gave us a show. For our move from Ngamo to the Falls we used the overnight passenger train service that, just as we predicted, everybody loved! That same day we lunched at The Victoria Falls Hotel and that evening we danced with our Ingqungqulu Emnyama troupe. The last day at Zambezi Sands saw us canoeing on the Zambezi and our now-annual Spanish paella party on the beach next to the magnificent river. These memories will last a lifetime – but none stronger than those of the people we helped along the way.

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