Jill Harding – Final day in Moldova

The dental charity in the UK and overseas

Bubbles and balloons helped Team Moldova get the oral health message across today when we visited two kindergartens. The children are aged 2 to 7 (when they start school) and it was so much fun to meet them. They filed into the school hall a little apprehensive to meet their English guests – children in Moldova seem reserved and exceptionally well behaved – I can’t image a group of two year olds back home being so patient and calm.
After dentist, Tanya’s presentation all the children got a go and started to overcome their shyness and show us their brushing skills. Then we cracked open the bubbles, balloons and bouncy balls – we were having as much fun as the kids. We saw the youngest children first followed by the slightly older ones – they don’t start learning English (which is slowly replacing Russian as the second language in some parts of Moldova) until they are 8 so we communicated in the universal language of fun!

At the second kindergarten, our Moldovan dentist Stan and team leader Dermot screened all the six year olds prior to them starting school. Many already had decay – sugary foods are a luxury but lots of youngsters already drink sweet tea.
After the visit one of the teachers hung back, shy but clearly wanting the meet us. She has a daughter but on her teachers’ wages of around 100 euros a month the balloons, hairclips and toothbrushes we had been freely handing out were clearly beyond her means. We gave her plenty of everything for her little girl.

Our next stop was Gymnasium Boltun in a nearby village. The road approaching the school is an unsurfaced muddy track that gets washed away when it rains. Within minutes we’d taken over the school’s meeting room to screen all 66 of the children and apply fluoride to their teeth. Of the 66 we saw, 44 need dental treatment and our Moldovan partners will now encourage their parents to take them to a dental office.
In the afternoon, Stan gave us a tour of his clinic is Nisporeni. As chief dental officer for the region he has spent his own money on a modern chair and improvements for his clinic. His colleagues aren’t so lucky and operate from a ripped, broken chair dating back to the 1960s and an antiquated autoclave. It reminded me of equipment that Dentaid has recently donated to a military history museum as a historic artefact. A dentist works here from 8am – 3pm, 5 days a week and will see up to 35 patients a day. A crown costs 10 euros compared with up to £600 back home.
The x-ray machine works (sometimes) but dates back to 1972 – undergoing an x-ray here would be frankly terrifying and the lab is anything but modern. The x-ray and dental equipment donated to Dentaid by an English dentist in his mother’s memory can’t arrive soon enough.
Our final stop on Thursday was the home of five disabled boys who are cared for by 3 incredible staff. They all are all partially paralysed and two have very limited movement at all. They have been rescued from a life in the state institutions thanks to a small charity which funds the home. Reading about conditions in these institutions is heartbreaking with reports of abuse, lack of food and confinement. All we can hope is that the kindness and hope we saw at Orhei orphanage earlier this week spreads to all of Moldova’s closed institutions. These young people are all from Nisporeni and have been moved back to the area to be closer to their families. Sadly, the pressure on families to earn means they cannot give up work to look after a child with special needs, and I got the impression that visits from families are few and far between.
It was a privilege to meet these young men and they giggled and responded to our songs, bubbles and a touch of the hand. One demanded a Dentaid T-shirt so after giving mine a quick rinse I’ve handed it over. Stan visits regularly to look after the residents’ teeth and keep it well stocked with brushes and paste.

Friday saw half the team visiting another kindergarten where they taught 237 children how to correctly brush their teeth. The six-year-olds were also screened so Stan and Tanya are aware of how many are likely to visit their offices in the months ahead.
The rest of us returned to Iurceni school where we screened and applied fluoride to the top three classes. The oldest children were graduating that day and attended the dentist in their black tie, suits and finest dresses. After toothbrushing instruction what they really wanted was to take selfies with their English visitors and we all posed for pictures, compared favourite singers (Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Miley Cyrus are top of the charts here) and let them practice their English. One bubbly 12-year-old told us her dream was to become an actress on the London stage – she could well do it.
Our final stop was the medical clinic in the village of Seliste which is reached by the roughest road I have ever bumped along. One of Stan’s colleagues works here every morning coping with ancient, broken equipment. When the shipment of surgeries arrives from Dentaid, Seliste is top of the list.
That afternoon the team made a quick stop for gifts and wine – they are very proud that the Queen drinks Moldovan Ciumai, a sweet red, and sparkling wine is one of Nisporeni’s claim to fame. We also visit a small enterprise hub where a husband and wife team produce hand painted candles. It’s a wonderful example of genuine entrepreneurship in a country where corruption and political and religious division have replaced the iron fist of Communism.

Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and 30 per cent of its GDP is money earned abroad and sent home. Some communities are losing 50 per cent of their young people as intelligent, bi-lingual college graduates lose patience with the lack of opportunities in Moldova, apply for a Romanian passport and move away.

Geographically and politically Moldova is caught between Russia and Europe. There’s a pro-Russian president and a pro-European prime minister. Despite the poverty and politics Moldova is a peaceful, beautiful country with swathes of protected forest, fertile agricultural land, historic sites and hospitable people. More tourists really should visit if they can find out where it is.
The challenge facing dental services here are a microcosm of the issues affecting most areas of life in Moldova. But with a combination of passionate Moldovans determined to make life better and the support of charities like Dentaid, hopefully the smiles we’ve brought this week will be followed by many more.