By Ashley Lodato
If you happened to catch “60 Minutes” on May 1, you learned about the Rift Valley Children’s Village (RVCV) in the Karatu Region of northern Tanzania. This village, which provides permanent homes and education for 94 orphaned children, has for the past 10 years also offered dental services, courtesy of the Methow Valley’s own Teresa Castner.
Teresa met the RVCV’s founders, American “Mama India” Howell and Tanzanian Peter Leon Mmassy, through a friend who lived in Tanzania. Teresa, who had been offering outreach dental services in Jamaica and throughout the United States, was inspired to bring her services to Tanzania.
So in 2006 Teresa took portable dental equipment to Tanzania and set up a dental clinic, giving many children and adults the very first dental checkups of their lives.
“The kids were fascinated by the dental thing,” says Teresa — no doubt helped in part by the goody bags of sunglasses, toothbrushes and sugar-free chewing gum that Teresa used to lure children into the dental chair. “They were lined up out the door,” she says.
Teresa complemented her dental services with dental education, teaching children and community members about the importance of good oral hygiene (“brush and floss!” is Teresa’s cheery mantra). Although Teresa does not provide regular dental services there herself these days, she has prompted other dentists — including Winthrop’s Jill Calvert — to visit the RVCV and offer their services, giving the village and the surrounding population, such as the impoverished village next door (Camp Nairobi) access to dental check-ups and procedures. She has also motivated friends and family, such as her stepdaughter, to spend time volunteering in other capacities at the RVCV.
Teresa told me a story about one visit, where the line of children snaked out the door as usual. Teresa was treating a young HIV-positive patient, who turned out to have painful abscesses throughout her mouth. When Teresa began preparing for the extractions, the patient screamed, and suddenly there was no more line at the door.
In recent years Teresa and her husband, Bill Pope, have raised money to build a separate wing in the RVCV that contains medical facilities as well as a room designated as a dental clinic. They have established medical and dental records for patients as well.
Mama India (so named because she took 17 abandoned Tanzanian children into her own home before starting the RVCV) tells Teresa that the children are quite disciplined about their dental hygiene. In the mornings, India will be trying to get the kids out the door to school and they say “Mama, we have to brush and floss our teeth.” The mantra, clearly, has made its mark.
To watch the “60 Minutes” episode featuring the Rift Valley Children’s Village, visit www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-tanzania-rift-valley-childrens-village, or learn more about the RVCV at www.tanzanianchildrensfund.org/childrens-village.