What do you need to make a change?
Creating Smiles Songs
I have participated in countless volunteer efforts throughout my life, but what stands out the most is my last trip to Uganda. I was given the opportunity to lead public health efforts in response to the devastating traditional healing phenomenon called Ebino. Ebino is a practice used to extract deciduous canine teeth in infants. Many Ugandans believe that this practice will cure infantile disease such as fever, tooth decay, etc., and therefore urge local traditional healers to perform Ebino. The phenomenon affects nearly 12% of Uganda's population and has led to numerous medical failures and even death in extreme cases due to unhygienic extraction practices. This issue has received little attention in the public health philanthropy sector, and it has been a call for me to make a difference.
The next question was how to make a change? I have no medical qualifications, so there is no way to treat children directly, I knew nothing about dental anatomy and hygiene, so I couldn't teach and there was no program to donate to support Ebino eradication (even if I could be broken college student, what should I give?). I realized that I had the ability to organize and manage people who were qualified to heal, knew how to teach and knew how to donate. Through the Bwindi Community Hospital, the Hungarian School of Nursing, Bwindi and the Batwa Development Program in Uganda (supported by the Kellermann Foundation), I contacted a local dentist, nursing students and local school principals to devise a strategy for discouraging Ebino among the Bwindi community. The group and I collaborated to plan school visits to several local academies; where the dentist will provide dental examinations, the nursing students will teach oral health lessons, and I will provide hygiene supplies and healthy snacks for hundreds of Ugandan children. All I had to do was find the resources to mobilize the effort. I contacted several dentists in Nevada, California and within a few weeks raised enough money to fully fund the project. Even unexpectedly, I received hundreds of extra soccer balls and T-shirts from my school's women's soccer team at San Francisco State University (because who doesn't appreciate a little wisdom?). With these donations, our crew engages hundreds of children and their families in discussions about Ebino and proper oral hygiene, teaching interactive lessons, donning toothbrushes and even playing some football here and there.
This effort exceeded all my initial expectations. I learned that to change, you don't have to do it yourself. Sometimes all one has to do is take the time, connect with the right people, act with compassion and all the pieces just fall into place. Take a look at some of the highlights of this journey, I hope you find out why I call it "The Smile Song".