A dentist who worked for 13 years in Orkney is setting off today, 1st February, to provide much needed dental care to refugees in Greece. Malcolm Hamilton,50, who worked in Orkney from 1996 to 2009 is travelling from his Dornoch home to the island of Lesvos, Greece.
Malcolm is part of the charity Dentaid which is dedicated to improving the oral health of disadvantaged communities around the world. Dentaid is working in Greece under the auspices of the Health Point Foundation.
Malcolm knows that it will be rough on him both physically and mentally even though the volunteers are warned of this before they agree to go. Shorter trips have been arranged to prevent volunteers trying to do too much and burning out through overwork.
“We only have a limited amount of time in each day” says Malcolm “ the hardest part is deciding when to call an end to the day, especially when there is still a queue of folk waiting to be seen”
Dr Ola Hassan is the dental lead for all of the Dental-Point Projects run by the Health Point Foundation. She directs mobile and static dental relief work across the world having first started her work in war torn Iraq treating vulnerable orphans affected by conflict and poverty. From refugee camps in France and Greece her aim is to make dental care more accessible to refugees.
The people Malcolm will be treating are mainly from Syria and Afghanistan and will include men, women and children fleeing for safety. Now unable to progress into countries of their choice of Germany, Sweden and Denmark because of an EU agreement with Turkey they are stuck in the camps in Greece.
Malcolm explains “ These are not economic migrants but refugees from war . Most of the refugees had first class dental treatment in their home countries but since they were forced to leave their homes they have had little opportunity to clean their teeth. “
The camps are extremely basic with no cooking facilities, people are housed in tents and with no real medical facilities so the refugees rely on packaged meals from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Freezing temperatures have added to the hardship.
“ Nobody should suffer unduly from pain” says Malcolm “ I feel it is important to help those where I can, and this is an opportunity to provide such help. I can help ease that pain. Unfortunately the only real treatment options are extractions as the facilities are very limited”.
When Malcolm is in Lesvos he will be part of a small team of volunteers which includes one other dentist and at least two nurses. The team visits a network of around twelve camps. Although each team only remains in Greece for under a week, they are escorted by a permanent co-ordinator. One new skill Malcolm will have to learn is how to use Whatsapp which will allow him to communicate more effectively with the people he meets.
All the volunteer dentists have to obtain extra registration with the Greek authorities. The dental clinic run by the Health Point Foundation is in the Diavata camp, close to the city of Thessaloniki where almost 2000 refugees are based. The volunteers also visit other camps including Nea Kavala, Oreokastro, Derveni, Sindos Karamanli, Giannitsa, Cherso and Nea Raidestos. The team, therefore, have to be flexible and willing to do what it takes.
Describing what his day will be like Malcolm says “ Each day we will drive to the dental store and pick up everything we need for the day: clean instruments, anaesthetics and drugs then drive to whichever camp we will be working in. We will set up the clinic then at the end of the day take everything down, pack it away, return to the store, sterilise everything we’ve used and prepare for the next day”
“Just because we are working in a refugee camp does not mean that any of our standards are allowed to slip in any way. We are still expected to work to the same high level as we would if at home.”
Lesvos, is the third largest of the Greek islands and its claim to fame was once its beautiful beaches and lush green landscape. Its salt marshes attract a large variety of birds including storks and flamingos. The uplands are cloaked with pines and holme oak with sweet chestnut trees on the lower levels. It includes Mount Olympus, dwelling home of the Olympian gods. Medieval castles, a Roman aqueduct and the ancient Greek theatre at Mytilini are among just a few of the amazing historical sites on Lesvos. Perhaps the most amazing and certainly the most ancient site is the pertified forest possibly 20 million years old.
All of this is in stark contrast to the Lesvos Malcolm will be working in with something like 60,000 refugees trapped in Greece, the conditions have become desperate.
An appeal on Just giving.com to raise £400 to help send Malcolm to Lesvos has had a very positive response and has exceeded its original target. Asked about the appeal Malcolm said “To be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what the response would be, however, it has been amazing. I think I am lucky to have so many people who think that this is a great idea. We don’t realise how lucky we are until we see the suffering that others have to endure in far off places”
Malcom added “ I could have donated money as many have so kindly done and I have done in the past but I suppose I just felt I could physically help with my time and skills.”
Malcolm’s Just giving page can be found here Malcolm Hamilton’s Just Giving Page
Reporter: Fiona Grahame