My Week Volunteering in Thessaloniki with Health Point Foundation
Our week began with an induction to the base camp at Diavata. Here, Health-Point Foundation (HPF) have been providing emergency dental care from a static dental unit to hundreds of refugees.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the unit. It was well equipped with two dental chairs, autoclaves for sterilisation, emergency equipment, defibrillator, and various other dental instruments and medicines.
After the induction, we packed up all the necessary equipment and arrived at our first outreach clinic based in a hotel. In recent months, due to the extremely cold weather, many camps have closed down and the refugees have been relocated to hotels or apartments.
It was difficult to work standing up, as we could not easily adjust the portable chairs and there were no lights but we quickly adapted. Again, I was really impressed with the equipment. The portable drills worked just as well as the ones used in clinics and we were able to carry out fillings, extractions, emergency root treatment, and preventative care.
However, one of our motors broke, which meant we only had one working unit. Unfortunately, we had to turn away some people and prioritise patients requiring the most urgent treatment. There were also no suction so we had to improvise. Again, this slowed down the treatment meaning we were not able to see as many patients as would have hoped.
I even had time to get my own teeth checked by a budding young dentist. Say "Aaaah".
Our next outreach clinic had amazing views and it was a beautiful sunny day. We had to work quickly as there was no ceiling light in this room , so we were grateful for all the natural daylight.
Each family here had their own private room with shared facilities. There was a TV room where all the kids loved watching cartoons (disguises added to photos to protect identity of the children), and there was a large kitchen where the women loved to cook.
I even got to sample some delicious falafel from a kind lady. She told me her husband was killed by a bomb. I was really shocked and sad when she gestured towards her daughter and said "Dad. Bomb. Boom".
Her daughter had an abscess and needed an extraction. She had been in pain for weeks and had already been given antibiotics. I really didn't want to leave her in pain with the risk of the infection worsening. We pleaded with her through the translator and tried to reassure her but she was just too frightened and wouldn't open her mouth for treatment. We had no alternative but to give her more antibiotics which made me feel uneasy. This was the first time HPF had been to this camp and I could not be sure if they would be returning.
Here I am back at base camp with two other volunteer dentists; Casiana from Romania, and Carina from Colchester, UK. Patients at Diavata have had regular access to the dental unit so most are dentally stable and treatments could be followed up here.
This camp previously hosted around 5,000 refugees in tents but now only a couple of hundred. Accommodation is now in "Isoboxes" which have air conditioning and electricity. One of our patients invited us into his Isobox where he stayed with his wife and two young children. Even though they have very little for themselves they offered us food and drink. We listened to how they travelled from Syria, through Turkey, and then smuggled by boat into Greece.
Many of these boats were dangerously overcrowded. The smugglers would purposely sink the boats in order to be rescued by the Greek coast guards. The risk of drowning is high and many people have died. They have no other option because it is too dangerous to stay in Syria. The family have been in the camp for nearly a year and waiting to find out where they will be given asylum.
Here is the team with some of our adorable patients. It was such a pleasure to be able to treat them and their families. I really enjoyed my time in Greece. It has given me the opportunity to hear first hand people's experiences, as well as spending time with some amazing people from all backgrounds. I feel humbled that I could make a difference to these vulnerable patients' lives.
If any one is interested in volunteering, HPF really need more coordinators. The current coordinators are doing a fantastic job but are extremely overworked. You can find out more or donate at www.healthpointfoundation.org
We are raising funds to replace the broken equipment - if you can donate any amount, we would be extremely grateful.
Can you help us raise £4500 to go towards the cost of a new portable dental unit to help provide emergency care to Syrian refugees in Greece?
Please donate at our JustGiving Crowdfunding page:
If you are a dentist interested in volunteering please visit http://www.dentalmavericks.org/ or contact Health Point Foundation directly.