Local dentist Aisling Byers, who works at Dunmurry Dental Practice, recently returned from volunteering in Uganda - an experience she will never forget.
Aisling travelled to Uganda at the beginning of March and spent two weeks providing dental treatment to local people who could not otherwise access or afford care.
The Dunmurry dentist was part of a team that visited the African country with charity Dentaid, providing dental care to people in rural areas, including a church hall, school and a refugee camp.
“In many ways it was what I expected,” explained Aisling. “I was prepared for the worst and that is exactly what I got.
“There was so much need for dental treatment but it was good that we were able to help in some small way, even if it only really made a dent in the problems they had.
“There were so many people in need that we had to limit it to one tooth or one small area per person.
“Sometimes their whole mouth would be sore and we had to ask them which tooth was the worst.
“It was really hard saying no to people. When we were packing up at the end of the day, people would be at the window begging me for treatment and that was so difficult but we had to draw a line somewhere.”
Unlike in Northern Ireland, where many people are reluctant or scared to visit the dentist, the people Aisling visited in Uganda were delighted to see her and the team.
“When we arrived one day, we got surrounded by children and adults who were singing and dancing because they were so happy and grateful we came to help them,” continued Aisling.
However, it wasn’t all song and dance, and Aisling was shocked by some of the things she heard. “The stories I heard were really horrific,” she said. “The UN are providing basics but it isn’t enough to survive on. In the refugee camp people had travelled from Burundi, where there is civil war, across Rwanda and into Uganda. They are so pleased with anything they get. You really see the extremes of life.
“It really makes you appreciate what you have, even small things like being able to wash your hands.”
Aisling added that this had been a life changing experience for her that she will never expect, and she is hoping to undertake another trip with Dentaid in the future.
“I would go again in the morning,” said Aisling. “I think I will go back but I don’t know when yet.
“There is always a part of me that will remain with the people I met in Uganda.”