Chris Tolmie, of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry’s Class of 2016, with the assistance of his classmates, is laying the groundwork to have a dental health component added to a school in Africa for physically handicapped children.
Begun in 1999 by Tolmie’s grandparents Don and Joanne Tolmie, the Faraja Primary School for Physically Handicapped Children has a goal of “bringing hope through education and physical therapy to disabled children.”
As Chris Tolmie explains: “Faraja in Swahili means hope.”
The prep work
In the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha, near Mount Kilimanjaro, hope isn’t a given for physically handicapped children. Though the children served by the Faraja School have average or above average cognitive abilities, the tradition in that part of the world has been to see permanent physical disabilities as punishment from on high.
The school, which has evolved into a mission involving participation from three generations of the Tolmie family, has been helping its students to learn skills so they can thrive in their community – or anywhere in the world.
“When I first entered dental school, I asked my grandfather about what was needed,” Tolmie says of how he began organizing a way to bring oral health to the students served by the school and their families.
“They were all very willing to help,” he recalls
In his first year at the School of Dentistry, he enlisted the support of his fellow first year dental students to make the Faraja School oral health mission the class project. In that first year, a goal was set of raising $2,000 to fund initial dental visits and securing donations of basic oral health toiletries like tooth brushes, tooth paste and floss. Through efforts that included a sale of T-shirts, the class raised $5,000, and also secured donations from several manufacturers of oral hygiene products.
That effort paid for work to establish a baseline of what kind of care would be needed in the community being served.
During Tolmie’s second and third years of dental school, he worked to establish an externship through the School of Dentistry and also coordinated a fundraising effort with Under Armour through which another $9,000 was raised.
Then, in the summer of 2015, he and three fellow students from the Class of 2016 – Jack Hyson, T.J. Thewes and Cara Seidner -- traveled to Tanzania and spent three weeks bringing the project to the next level.
In the first week, basic screenings were done at the school, which was no small feat as the institution serves 90 kindergarten through sixth grade students plus faculty and staff.
Those identified as in need of urgent and more elaborate dental care were taken care of during the second week, but that part of the project would require more elaborate facilities than were available at the Faraja School.
Tolmie contacted Dr. Francis Roman at Kibosho Hospital in the city of Kibosho about 45 miles from the school and secured the use of professional dental facilities for six days. Securing the facility addressed one major issue in the effort to treat those in need of urgent care, but there remained the hurdle of getting students to the hospital. In addition to the $9,000 raised for the project, Tolmie and his group also transported dental supplies with a value of $6,000 to donate to the Kibosho dental clinic -- everything from motorized dental hand pieces and composite curing lights to restorative and endodontic material.
Tolmie and his colleagues from Maryland completed 75 fillings, 32 extractions, 10 root canals, 12 esthetic composite fillings and 22 periodontal cleanings.