Dental student Roger Chu develops an oral health training in Nairobi

January 10, 2020

I am a third-year student at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. In 2018 summer, two other students and I spent 8 weeks in Nairobi, Kenya working at the Lea Toto Clinics, a network of clinics serving children and families living with HIV in Nairobi's informal settlements. We volunteered at the clinics, and we developed an oral health training for the network's clinical officers, nurses, nutritionists, and social workers. In addition to this work, we had the opportunity to join a three-day site visit to Kenya's Ministry of Health, the Kenya Medical Training College, and the University of Nairobi. We also attended a day-long workshop at the Global Center Nairobi that brought together oral health stakeholders of Kenya to discuss the country's oral health policy and exchange experiences/ideas on how to improve the oral health of underserved populations.

What is the most memorable moment of your trip?
My experience in Kenya was eye-opening and humbling. In one occasion during our environmental scan, we went with the social workers to visit the homes of people living in Kibera, the largest urban informal settlement in Africa. Till today, it is still difficult for me to process what I saw. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans lived in shanties that are surrounded by sewer water, with no access to the most basic necessities such as sanitation, food, education, and healthcare. After having some long conversations with them, I learned that no, they did not choose to be poor. Every day, they tried their best to break the cycle of poverty, and yet their extreme circumstances prevented them from succeeding, again and again. What I saw in Kibera was striking. Every time I think of it, I am reminded of how much I have, as well as how much more I should give.

Can you describe the impact of this trip on your work / your life / your community?
One of the reasons I want to become a dentist is so I can fight for the cause I feel strongly about- achieving health equity for all. This trip to Kenya was influential to me because it greatly reinforced this goal of mine and allowed me to network with many other people of the same mind. Throughout the places we visited, I saw way too many people living in hardship and poverty. However, inspiringly I also saw so many good-hearted people at each place who sacrifice their lives to help those who are in need. After learning about their service and working alongside some of them, my motivation to serve the underprivileged populations has never been stronger. I have decided to start by working in health professional shortage areas after I graduate.

Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya