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Roberts' Postcard from Nepal


































Tom Roberts ’79 is currently in private practice in Lower Queen Anne in Seattle, Washington


Summer/Fall 2002

A Kindness Rewarded

Now, surrounded by these kids with shaved heads, dressed in red and yellow robes, I realized this was one of the great moments of my life. We had worked in one of the most exotic countries in the world on some of the kindest people I have met."

by Dr. Tom Roberts ’79


I looked up from my patient and was met by a pair of eyes of a young monk peeking through a crack in the doorway leading to the clinic. I motioned for him to come in.

Fifteen other monks, all in various stages of numbness, followed him through the door, circled the dental chair and peered into my patient’s mouth to see the work being done. Most had never been to the dentist let alone watched one working. This was the last of 35 patients from a local monastery that we had treated that day at the Shechen Clinic. Everyone involved was exhausted but elated that we had made it through the group and completed all the work they needed. My assistant, Sandy, and I would be leaving soon, after working for two weeks at this clinic in Kathmandu, Nepal. The regular staff of the clinic, including two assistants, a receptionist, and a lab technician, had done an amazing job organizing the flow of this two-chair clinic. I wanted to take the entire staff home with me but decided immigrations would take exception to that idea. Now, surrounded by these kids with shaved heads, dressed in red and yellow robes, I realized this was one of the great moments of my life. We had worked in one of the most exotic countries in the world on some of the kindest people I have met. I couldn’t imagine a better way to end our trip.

The Shechen Medical-Dental Clinic is located in the heart of Kathmandu, Nepal in an area heavily settled by Tibetan Buddhist refugees fleeing the Communist Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1951. Created to treat the poorest of the city, the clinic includes medical facilities for Western and Tibetan medicine, acupuncture and naturopathy. The last to open, the dental clinic began seeing patients on a very limited basis in the spring of 2001. The modern facility was built completely with donated equipment. The staff is all dedicated, caring individuals who are anxious to treat as many locals as possible, but they lack one thing: there are no dentists or hygienists available to work at the clinic on a consistent basis.
From the sweltering jungles along the Indian border to the south to the snowy heights of Mt. Everest along the Chinese border to the north, Nepal is geographically one of the most diverse countries in the world. It is also one of the poorest. Recent estimates place the annual income under $300. Access to medical and dental care is limited and a large number never see a dentist. With a diet high in sugar and almost no oral hygiene, there is an overwhelming need for dental and periodontal treatment. The Shechen Clinic can begin to address this problem, but first a consistent flow of Western-trained, volunteer dental providers is needed.

My own first trip to the clinic occurred shortly after the assassination the king and queen and several other members of the country’s royal family by Crown Prince Dipendra in June of 2001. I feared that I was putting my assistant and myself into the middle of a dangerous political situation. Though it was clear that security was higher in the city, at no time did we feel unsafe. The staff of the clinic did everything they could to ensure that our stay was pleasant.
Kathmandu is a deeply religious city with ancient Hindu temples and one of the largest Buddhist holy sites in the world, the Boudhanath Stupa. The Shechen Clinic itself is associated with the Shechen Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. Founded by the last teacher of the Dalai Lama, it is one of the most beautiful Tibetan monasteries outside of Tibet. The people I met there were caring and compassionate and I was regularly greeted with “Namaste,” their recognition of the divine within you.

But more than anything I was struck by their happiness. Though they have very little material wealth, they have a great joy of being and gratitude for all that is done for them. Their attitude toward life has truly put my “problems” into perspective and has changed me profoundly.

When I finished working on the last of the young Buddhist monks, we all moved outside for pictures. Smiles were wide, if slightly lopsided, and everyone who had helped celebrated a job well done. The lama who oversees the monastery presented us with gifts and then herded his group into the waiting bus.
As I watched them go, I felt we had made a small dent in the oral problems of the city and helped move the clinic forward. But to keep it going, the clinic needs a steady supply of dentists and hygienists willing to donate their time and talents. And I, for one, will be back.


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