Trip to Uganda
On June 15, 2010, I returned from my 8th dental humanitarian outreach trip to Uganda. We had a small but enthusiastic team of two dentists (myself and Dr. Carla Yamashiro), and two volunteer dental assistants (Faria Shinn and Abdul Jim). We also were able to get some help from a local Ugandan dentist, Dr. Matthew Rubona.
We set up two clinic sites using portable dental equipment. One in the city of Kampala, and one on Koome Island in the middle of Lake Victoria. In 6 days of operation we treated about 200 patients doing extractions and fillings and some full mouth scaling.
In addition, we worked in 3 separate schools distributing toothbrushes and giving detailed oral hygiene instruction to about 700 children 1st grade through high school.
We met with the Dean and faculty of the Makerere University Dental School and initiated a faculty and student exchange program between them and the University of Washington in Seattle.
It took several days to travel over 750 miles cross-county by car and by boat to access the areas we worked in plus several more days for negotiation meetings, equipment maintenance and shipping and two days of well-deserved relaxation.
Over the last several years our volunteer teams have ranged from 3 to 14 people. We travel in private busses or cars with a professional driver and guide/interpreter.
Along the way we always build in a special tourist treat for the volunteers. This year we stayed at the spectacular Mweya Lodge in Queen Elizabeth Park where we went on a “game drive” and a boat excursion so see and photograph wildlife in their native habitat.
The highlight for me was driving off road around a huge boulder and unexpectedly coming face-to-face with a mother lion and her two cubs. Suddenly we were only about 10 feet apart, which made for a huge surprise for all of us, some wonderful photos, and a quick exit
There is always so much fulfillment and knowledge received from these trips. The appreciative patients, the cultural experience, and the adventure make every experience unique and thrilling!
Travel in Uganda is usually accomplished by motorized vehicle and is always arduous, adventurous and unpredictable. A cross-country trip of 250 miles may take anywhere from 6-12 hours!
Along the way there will be 10,001 hazards to avoid. The roads are peppered with huge potholes, speed bumps, washouts and mud bogs. Herds of cattle and goats parade down the road accompanied by bicycles heavily laden with fruit and produce.
Train local people to take responsibility for preventive education and care.
Establish self-sustaining, community enterprises that mutually benefit health and well-being.
Share the virtues and values of other cultures with each other in order to enrich all of our lives.
Develop bridges of love and understanding between us and all peoples so that we become a planet of friendly neighbors instead of fearful strangers.
of pedestrians and groups of school children throng the borders of
every village, and motorcycles carrying 3-5 passengers weave through
the gaps in the crowds like a slalom course.
At any moment you may suddenly encounter an overturned truck, or a speeding bus coming around the corner in your lane, or a wild animal darting out of the bushes in front of you, or a concealed police speed trap on an open stretch of road where you are trying to make up some time.
If this doesn’t slow you down, the inevitable mechanical breakdown of your vehicle will. Flat tires, broken axles, and overheated radiators are part of the trip.
And just when you think you’re almost there, a rogue elephant decides to use the highway for his feeding ground. So you just wait and watch until he wanders off because your car would be an annoyance that he would easily flip over with one heave of his tusk.
I’ve logged thousands of miles of driving in Uganda and to be successful one must be patient, have a go-with-the-flow attitude, and not be tied to a strict time schedule.
The most relaxing and efficient way to travel is to hire your own driver who is familiar with the roads and points of interest along the way. Then sit back the let the adventure unfold.
Uganda is a fairly small country of 26 million people in East Africa bordered by Kenya, Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania. It sits right on the Equator at about 3,650 feet above sea level, which makes for a warm but comfortable climate. Lake Victoria (the 2nd largest lake in the world) sits on the SE corner. Uganda has the glacier covered Rwenzori Mountains, the Nile river, Murchison Falls (one of the 8 wonders of the world), the Impenetrable Forest (one of the densest rain-forest jungles in the world), it is one of only two countries in the world where Forest Gorillas live, it contains vast expanses of savanna in the Rift Valley where hundreds of species of African wildlife abound, and the African continent’s friendliest people.
I have lived in Uganda for almost a year at a time and spent 8 additional months leading dental volunteer teams to various parts of the country. Most people who go there return again and again because there is something special and magical about the spirit of the people and the environment that captures you. I hope that you will be one of those lucky volunteers.