Dentist Jane Lelean and dental nurse Claire Hooper spent a week in Samos treating people who were suffering terrible dental pain. The team was based in a temporary building in Samos Camp which is home to about 1,000 men of many different nationalities. Most of them have complex dental needs and have been living in pain for many months. Several are on liquid diets and can’t eat because their pain is so severe.
Jane said, “Most needed to have several teeth removed and will require more treatment. We saw people from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Afghanistan, Morocco and Pakistan and they had escaped the most brutal and terrible situations. It was awful hearing their stories and seeing people who had suffered so much violence.
“However, the clinics had a very calm atmosphere and the refugees were friendly, kind to each other and incredibly grateful. Despite being in this desperate situation they volunteered to translate and were very keen to thank us. It means so much to them that people volunteer in the camps and want to help.”
Life in Samos Camp is cramped and tough with tents crammed together and more people arriving all the time. While the Dentaid team was there 63 new refugees arrived by boat after they were trafficked from Turkey. They are then detained in the camp for 26 days. “It is basically a prison with the gates open,” said Jane. “After 26 days they are allowed to leave but there is nowhere to go. They are determined to get to mainland Greece and other parts of Europe and take all sorts of risks to get there. The atmosphere is one of desperation and optimism.”
To equip the clinic Dentaid sent portable dental equipment donated by practices in the UK and disposable treatment packs supplied by Single Use Dental Instruments. The trip was the first of many that Dentaid will run to Samos and the nearby island of Lesvos over the coming months. Already several kind-hearted dental professionals have signed up to volunteer in the camps but more are needed due to the scale of the crisis.
“I would say to anyone thinking of volunteering that it is an incredibly rewarding, humbling experience,” said Jane. “It was clinically challenging, very busy and about helping people out of pain as quickly as possible. One man who was in agony came back the next day to thank me and say he already felt better. It’s also fantastic to work so closely with other volunteers as part of a team. Clare is a wonderful dental nurse, we’d never met before, and you become very close working together in that situation.”
Dentaid’s first priority is to help those in the most acute dental pain so they are able to eat and toothache does not further affect their wellbeing or mental health. As the projects in Lesvos and Samos expand Dentaid will also be providing oral health education, toothbrushing programmes, fluoride application and preventative treatments.
“Access to toothbrushes and toothpaste is patchy and many people don’t get the opportunity to brush their teeth,” added Jane. “Then they are having sugary snacks and breakfasts and tea with five spoonfuls of sugar. The women and children are in different accommodation in Samos, we didn’t see them on this visit, but we are told they will also need dental treatment.”
Dentaid’s first volunteering team in Lesvos will arrive on March 19. They will work in Moira Camp where about 3000 people are living in tents and Kara Tepe which is home to about 800 women and children.
Dentaid has spaces for dental professionals with a minimum of three years’ post qualification experience on its volunteering trips to Lesvos departing on April 23 and May 7, 14 and 21. The charity has opportunities for volunteers in Samos on April 2 and May 7, 14 and 21.
Each trip is a week long and flights depart from London. All participants raise between £700 and £750 to fund their flights, accommodation, some meals and to contribute toward medicines and materials. Volunteers have a rest day in Athens and there are opportunities to explore Lesvos and Samos which are both beautiful islands.
To find out more or apply on-line visit www.dentaid.org or call 01794 324249.