Dentistry Anandaniketan style a memorable experience

My first impression of India was of a mad riot of sights, sounds and smells. Chaotic activity everywhere, it was an amazing assault on the senses. I was taken aback by the poverty and the disorder, but cheered by the friendly, warm faces everywhere. The camp at Anandaniketan (AN) was a vast complex, the facilities for volunteers were more than comfortable and the staff were helpful and friendly.

I really enjoyed the outreach trips each day to the villages. Each one was different, but we were always received warmly and enthusiastically. I had great fun playing cricket with the boys of AN and I felt blessed when one of them befriended me. I am eagerly waiting to meet up with him again when I return next year.

Each evening after dinner we gathered on the roof-top for a debrief and one evening we had a wild monkey join us. It caused quite a stir and after recovering from our fright we all collapsed in laughter.

The way I work in India and at home is vastly different. At home I have an organised, clean, well lit, well equipped surgery. In the villages we had to improvise everyday and put together a surgery from tables and plastic chairs, instruments from suitcases and in whatever room may be available. There are no set appointments, just a line up of waiting patients and usually lots of happy children peering through windows at us.

My most memorable patient was a young lady who was a resident of AN. She was profoundly disabled, unable to communicate or care for herself. She needed to be carried to the dental chair. Her teeth were very dirty and it took me more than half an hour to clean them. Although the procedure was quiet uncomfortable for her, she appeared completely relaxed. I was very moved by the trust she placed in me, a stranger from another culture.

After my first trip to India I was a little unsure whether I would ever go back. However, after returning in 2012 I have become charmed by the place and the people. I have come to realise that contributing even just a little in such a sea of want is meaningful and the reality is that I benefit as much, if not more, than the people I treat.

If you are a new volunteer, and especially if you have not visited India before, you will be shocked. India is a riotous place that will assault your senses. I found it best to try and relax into the madness. Don't expect much to run on time, things happen eventually rather than promptly. Try and enjoy your surroundings while you are waiting. Don't be afraid to ask for any kind of assistance, I have found Indians to be very generous and willing to help out in all kinds of situations. I have also found Equal Health to be very well organised so you can rest assured that you will be well cared for while you are away.

David Walters - Dentist, Queensland Health, North Brisbane, Queensland