Each year I volunteer as a dentist at a wonderful dental clinic set in the suburbs of Jerusalem. It is known as DVI – Dental Volunteers for Israel.
The clinic was established nearly 40 years ago by a holocaust survivor who had seen and witnessed the terrible cruelty and experiences of the young children in the concentration camps. After the war she (Trudi Birger), decided that she would set up a dental clinic for the children of Jerusalem of all faiths and religions. This was to be a clinic to treat any child from the age of 5 from a needy background so that no child would need to suffer as she had done. The clinic would be permanently staffed with a local dentist as director and a full support team of dental nurses, hygienists and administrators. BUT the bulk of the dentistry would be provided by qualified volunteer dentists. They were to be recruited from anywhere in the world and would encompass all faiths and religions – in fact today, 60% of the volunteer dentists are not of the Jewish faith.
As a volunteer I work from Sunday to Thursday and from 8 am until 2 pm. The children need a lot of dental repair work (mainly fillings). This is largely due to a diet very high in carbohydrates and sugars. Sadly these foodstuffs are relatively cheap and are often a necessity in large poor families. But happily, treating the children is not too difficult as they are , by and large, extremely good in accepting the required dental procedures. Communication is not a problem as the clinic’s language is English and all the permanent staff are at the minimum, bilingual in Hebrew and English , with some also speaking Arabic and so can translate as needed. Some of the older children even speak English. From a dental point of view it is so sad to see the amount of dental decay and disease but we do ensure that each child gets a toothbrush and tooth cleaning and advice from the dental hygienist. Additionally each child, as in a conventional dental practice, gets seen for review once or twice every year until they are 18. The standard of care that they receive is very high especially as a number of the volunteer dentists are specialists and consultants in their own country.
My wife, Lynne, on first visiting the clinic felt that aesthetically, the clinic’s treatment room did not have an engaging or child friendly atmosphere. As a professional textile artist with 30 years of experience working with communities and schools, she realised she could produce some colourful and pictorial wall hangings to brighten up the bare walls. So she set up a project to produce a piece of work entitled “Everyone Smiles in the Same Language”. This would involve the children, their parents, families and even the staff and volunteers at the clinic, as they waited for their treatment. With a neat twist, and the inclusion of some very generous cast-off clothing donations from celebrities, she started the work at the North Cheshire Jewish Primary School using drawings and ideas of the children. Using recycled fabrics (and other materials) and a technique known as Rag Rugging the project took shape in Cheshire and then was transported to the DVI clinic where the children awaiting their dental treatment were happy and eager to help in the completion of this large wall hanging. What was really good to witness was the coming together of all faiths as the Arab and Jewish children worked together on the project.
This is a video of the project:
So popular was the project that a second wall hanging was requested which was based on the story of Jonah and the whale.
Again using drawings and ideas from primary school children this was completed at the clinic and now joins “everyone smiles” on the clinic’s wall. A wonderful and a great long lasting and colourful project.