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I returned to Sierra Leone the last week of March 2018. Even though I performed no dental services and provided no training, the trip was quite a success.
We have been training students since 2009 to restore teeth with simple fillings and to extract teeth that cannot be restored. These skills allow the graduates to provide basic dental services to the poor who have no other access to care. In a country of seven million people, there are still only ten registered dentists. We are now offering the training through the local college, Every Nation College in Bo. It is offered as a post graduate diploma program to nurses and CHO’s (Community Health Officers), the equivalent of PA’s (physician’s assistants). The criteria for selecting the students is that they have at least three years of experience and are currently working in a clinic, so they can return to that clinic at the end of the training and provide care and develop their skills. We provide support to the graduates by allowing them to return to our clinic for further instruction, and with visits to their clinic in order to assist in setting up their dental department and helping them in the treatment of their first patients.
Our second class of students through the college completed their classroom training the week I was in Bo; there are ten students. The classroom training was conducted by James, a CHO who is a graduate of our program. Clinicals start today and will continue for at least six months, until the students complete the requirements and demonstrate proficiency in placing fillings and extracting teeth. The clinical training will be conducted by James and Kassay. Kassay is a graduate of our first class in 2009. He has been working steadily since then at Morningstar Clinic and has developed his skills to a level of excellence.
We met with the Chief Dental Officer in the country in order to discuss the accreditation process, so that our graduates can practice within a clinic or hospital setting without any resistance or questions regarding the legitimacy of their training or diploma. The steps to be taken were outlined and agreed to in principle. We hope that the actual process will be completed in a timely manner and without many obstacles.
Last year we learned that a hotel had been donated to New Harvest Ministries by a satisfied dental patient. He had not been able to receive treatment for a toothache, even though he had sought care from three other dental clinics, including the clinic at the government hospital. After receiving care at Morningstar clinic by Kassay, he was so satisfied that he and his wife decided to make the donation. This building is three stories tall and offers the opportunity to expand the clinic operations and to perhaps convert it into a small hospital. The transaction was completed at the end of 2017 and final arrangements are being made to make the move in the near future. When the move is complete, the optometry department will be named in honor of Wm. Thomas Linder, the cofounder of Project 8110.
We were also able to visit the construction site of the new college, which sits on a fifty acre parcel that was also donated to New Harvest Ministries. The initial phase of construction includes nineteen classrooms, and administrative offices, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.
There is still so much to be accomplished, and the task is so much greater than my capacity to complete it. It will only be completed by the grace of God. Therefore, I ask that you continue to partner with me both financially and prayerfully. Our students, teachers, staff and ministry partners face daily challenges that most of us will never experience. When they pray, “Give us today our daily bread”, they are often times praying for God’s provision for today’s meals. They are faced with unreliable sources of water, electricity, and transportation. Roads are sometimes not navigable in the dry season, let alone in the rainy season. And there are external forces fighting against us that range from the spiritual, to the dental community that does not understand the good work that we are doing.
God has blessed us; that is why we give. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV)