By Whittney Tom, NGO Services Intern
On international plane rides, I always look forward to meeting my co-passengers and learning more about out their travel stories. On my way home from Kenya this May, I was fortunate enough to sit next to a fascinating woman on the 16-hour ride from Dubai to San Francisco. She was a student at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry who had recently moved from her home country, India, to the California Bay Area. She had just completed her first experience providing free dental care to people in southern India where she had been able to utilize her fluency in Hindi to translate for her fellow volunteers and their clients in their mobile dental services caravan. We discussed at length the extensive and expanding need for dental services in remote areas in India and other growing and developing countries. Through my experience with dozens of non-governmental organizations promoting access to health care, there has been a constant lack of dental services or a comprehensive program that coordinated more opportunities for people to seek free dental services in other areas in the world.
After starting my internship with the NGO team at UniversalGiving, I came across an amazing organization called East Meets West Foundation carrying out extraordinary work in Vietnam. East Meets West(EMW) strives to improve health, education, and economic conditions in an effort to eradicate poverty and to help Vietnamese people to achieve self-sufficiency. Of their many efforts, their Dental Program really impressed me and reminded me of my conversation with the dental student from India. Through EMW’s website, I learned that dental disease is the most widespread ailment in the world, with over 5 billion people suffering from its effects and with little resources devoted to this disease that threatens the quality of life of children and adults. Remembering the pain I experienced before having my wisdom teeth removed, I can only start to empathize with people who lack access to dental care but have daily toothaches.
East Meets West Dental Program began in 1996, about eight years after EMW was founded, with a three-member team providing emergency, corrective, and preventive services to about 2,500 children per year. After an increase in funding, including a grant from the United States Agency for International Development, East Meets West has been able to reach over 75,000 children to which they have provided nearly 300,000 free dental services. Services are facilitated through the Tuong Lai School for Disabled Children in Da Nang City.
Not only does East Meets West provide free dental services to the population in close proximity to their clinic, but with over 100 volunteers coming from all over the world every year, they continue to take a mobile clinic to rural areas in Vietnam and they are now expanding their efforts throughout Southeast Asia. In addition to providing dental services, EMW develops comprehensive strategies to address situations of extreme poverty and poor access to health services. Lead by this strategy, EMW provides clean water and sanitation, education, medical, and climate change adaptation programs. This array of widespread programs and services provides an all-inclusive approach to serving populations in need. With local expertise in Vietnam, EMW highlights how a mixed approach that is both culturally sensitive but also allows for the use of foreign expertise and resources can positively affect tens of thousands of people in our global community.