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 patients 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 couldnt 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 countrys 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
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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