What a life changing experience to spend a week living with and serving some amazing people in one of the most wild and beautiful places on Earth! Nairobi is a place of stark contrast. Beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife, old culture and traditions are set against some of the most destitute of living conditions. It is a place of very few means. Cities are filled with slums unlike anything we see in the United States. Houses are fashioned from scrap, one on top of the other. Many have no windows, only skylights made from water bottles, allowing slivers of light into the tiny homes. In the midst of the dirt streets littered with debris, the scrappy shacks and a small river of something (I don’t want to think about what it is) running through the middle of the street I am struck by the colorful beauty and joyful attitude of the people here. Handmade dresses in bright, colorful patterns, smiling faces, the beauty and elegance of the people seems out of place in such a rough setting.
So, You Think You Are Poor?
My first impression upon taking it all in: Here in the U.S. if you think you are poor, if you lament your life because you don’t
have an I-pad or a BMW; If you think you are struggling to make ends meet, you are still rich. You have not seen poor anywhere back home, not like this. How blessed we are, and how few of us appreciate our good fortune.
While poor, the Kenyans I met in Nairobi are not to be pitied. Life has a different meaning when material wealth is taken from the equation. People give of themselves, lend their skills and talents to others freely. People smile and laugh, not because they have just upgraded their cell phone, but because they are successful at life in a way that so many of us fail. They have joy in their lives. They have a sense of community. They live to see another year, and appreciate it.
Dentistry Under Armed Guard
I don’t mean to romanticize my experience too much. There are unpleasant realities on the prowl in Nairobi, as is true in most depressed and poor areas of the world. Traveling through town, through the slums, and to and from my host’s home every day, armed security is required. The organizers of the dental outreach clinic will allow work only during the daylight hours, and caution strongly against venturing out on your own. The clinic itself has armed guards providing security at all times.
The True Recipients of Gifts
I was the guest of one of the dental clinic organizers, Dr. Michael Hyodo, who keeps a residence nearby. Dr. Hyodo is the Director of World Ministries International, and runs dental clinics in Nairobi. His support and efforts helped make this dental outreach clinic the largest in Kenya’s history. During the entire week that we were there, the mood and the feeling, everywhere you went, was like a holiday. People were happy and excited that we were there. Some of the dental patients had never seen a dentist before, and didn’t even own a toothbrush. People came from near and far in droves to attend the free clinic.
I spent most of my time working in the clinic with dental students, passing along some of my decades of experience to a new generation of dentists. I learned how to make surgical caps in the sewing room, and brought back a few as souvenirs. Having something to offer people here means something. Giving something as simple as the dental care we take for granted, or some of your time, is good for your soul. Hundreds of people were helped through this dental clinic, but the true recipients of the gifts were all of us who were a part of it.
Interested in supporting dental outreach around the world? Contact Dr. Robert A. Weinstein.