Dr. Rachel Hymes had all the dental equipment she needed — two dental chairs, an air compressor, anesthesia and tools to perform extractions safely — inside a trailer on the back of a truck.
She’d park the vehicle, the size of a large U-Haul truck, on the grounds of the Riverside Farm Institute in Kafue, Zambia and open the mobile mini-clinic every morning. Each day, for nearly week, she saw about 40 patients seeking relief from their dental problems — ranging from large cavities to years old broken teeth.
“I decided to only do extractions,” Dr. Hymes said. “I had to make a decision. I can either serve one person in an hour, or several for one hour. The need was just tremendous.”
Since graduating from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2010, Dr. Hymes has volunteered her dentistry skills for a mission trip every year. This year, she went to Zambia with the group International Caring Hands.
Dr. Hymes found the organization through the ADA International Volunteer website. She chose the group because the mobile clinics are equipped with necessary materials and tools. All she had to do was pay for her flight.
Dr. Hymes, of Mountain City, Tennessee, and her husband, flew out of Charlotte, North Carolina to New York City on June 7. From there, they flew to Dubai and then to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. There was another two-hour car ride before they arrived in Kafue — 28 hours later.
“It was quite a journey,” she said. They arrived on a Sunday afternoon and began working in the mobile clinic at 8:30 a.m. Monday. Most of the people she saw lived in a village close to the Institute.
Along with a local assistant and a translator, Dr. Hymes opened the clinic until 5:30 p.m. for four days, treating about 150 people of all ages.
“Some people were scared. Others didn’t get the idea of being numb,” she said. “But when they were done, they would thank us and give us a hug.”
By the end of my mission, word had started to spread about the clinic and they had to turn a lot of people away.
“That was the hardest part of the trip,” she said. “We had to close even though there was still a line 20 people deep.”
Because of the need, Dr. Hymes said she hopes other dentists, especially new dentists like her, seek out ways to volunteer and use their skills to treat those in need — whether internationally or locally.
“If dentists are available to go, they should do it,” Dr. Hymes said. “(International Caring Hands) had everything a dentist needs to treat patients, all they need are people to do it.”
Dr. Hymes said International Caring Hands provided the food and a place to stay. Meanwhile, their dental equipment was in great condition.
“I enjoy getting to know people and just helping others get some relief from pain,” Dr. Hymes said. “I think as a human being, as a Christian, I feel the responsibility to help those in need. Volunteering is something I hope I can do for the rest of my life.”
At the end of her trip, Dr. Hymes said, they parked the truck in a garage where the mobile clinic will stay until another dentist comes along to volunteer.
For more information on international volunteering, visit the ADA International Volunteer website here.