"One of my favourite memories/experiences was assisting the local dentist at one of the mobile clinics. I was able to watch him fully reconstruct a patient’s front tooth that had be cracked. Using only composite, a UV light, and a metal spatula, the dentist rebuilt the man’s front tooth and when he was finished it looked like new. I was particularly surprised by how much I enjoyed my time with the dentist because it wasn’t something I expected to see. I expected that the dentist would to the bare minimum to fix the tooth so that the patient would have full function when eating, etc. However, it was really unexpected to see the dentist do such incredible work to fix an (ultimately) aesthetic issue. It was interesting to consider that while these people may be experiencing poverty, they obviously care about visual appearance as well. These people care about how they look and what people think when they see them. I also noticed that many of the locals were very clean, groomed, and properly dressed. After noticing all of this and considering it, I actually felt I had been very naive assuming that these people in poverty would not care about their appearance. While they may not have all the same facilities or products as people in developed countries, there’s no reason that they would care any less about they appearance.
Something else that I also found really interesting was being able to see the health consequences of pollution. There were many young children that came to the clinic with symptoms that the doctor explained were related to allergies caused by pollution in the air. Young children had grey spots in their eyes, coughing, and other breathing difficulties. At home, pollution and global warming is often emphasized as seriously affecting the environment, however it was very interesting to physically observe health issues directly caused by pollution that otherwise would be very rare in the western world.
One other starking contrast is the issue with water cleanliness. As a global health student, I study these issues from a classroom in Toronto, but it was very insightful to actually experience it in real life. While they may have “improved water systems”, the water is still contaminated and there are many locals, not just tourists and foreigners, that contract parasites from drinking the unsanitized water. While it may be a fact of life for the locals that they must always boil their water before using it, it shows people like us (students) how unfair the living conditions are in other countries.
Honestly, I found the trip difficult while I was there. It was hard for me not to feel pity for the people we saw. For someone like me who has unlimited opportunities, financial stability, general safety, and an effective government and authority figures, it was difficult to understand the situation that the locals are in. They are very limited in their opportunities and they must work slowly, one step at a time, to reach even just a safe, stable place in their society. For example, many of the people who came to the clinics were warned of diabetes and told they must change their eating habits. However, junk foods are one of the few material things that many of those people can afford and look forward to. Overall, it was difficult for me to feel hopeful when I was able to experience what life is like for the locals in poverty.
As a whole, I really enjoyed the trip and found it very insightful. I find myself able to apply the experience to my studies and I feel as though I have a better understanding of the things I read about in my textbooks and on the news. I absolutely loved having the experience to have hands on interactions in medical assessments and I learned a lot from the health professionals."
Enjoy stories from your fellow peers who have recently travelled with us on our MEDLIFE trips! Hear what they have to say!