Miri – 17 May 2013 – A recent dental mission to a Penan village in Long Lamam organised by five John Curtin Leadership Academy (JCLA) student ambassadors of Curtin University Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) managed to treat 80 villagers with dental problems.
The students were assisted by dental officer Dr. Lee Zuo Loong and dental nurse Ruth Ngau from the Oral Health Division of the Sarawak State Health Department.
The mission was part of the JCLA’s ‘The Forgotten Smiles’ project, a dental outreach project championed by project leader and a third-year electrical power engineering student Esther Ling, 21; third-year mechanical engineering student Aaron Leong, 25; second-year chemical engineering students Joyce Wong, 21 and Kristy Nyagang, 21; and third-year chemical engineering student Sarven Shan, 23.
‘The Forgotten Smiles’ project is primarily aimed at improving the dental health and hygiene of remote Penan communities in the interior. It also aims to raise public awareness, particularly amongst urban Malaysians, of the plight of the Penans and their access to health services.
Located on the Sela’an River in Baram, Long Lamam is a small village with about 150 villagers and it took the team seven hours to get there. A similar trip to the village was organised in December last year.
During their 4-day stay, the dental team treated the villagers, many of whom suffered from tooth decay and had to have their teeth extracted.
According to Dr. Lee, tooth extraction is usually the last resort as dentists would examine other treatment options to save the decayed tooth. But in their case where limited equipments were brought in into the village, tooth extraction had to be done so that the patients need not suffer further pain and can have a better quality of life.
Ling said that one of the reasons her group chose to take the dental team to the village was because the Penans are generally not fond of venturing to urban centres to seek dental treatment and being separated from their families and community for prolonged periods.
“They also have to travel on logging roads and hitch rides on passing timber company vehicles in order to get to the towns. It is quite a tedious journey for them,” said Ling.
Apart from dental check-ups and treatment, the mission at Long Lemam also involved giving a talk on the importance of oral healthcare, a demonstration on the proper way to brush teeth, and the distribution of free toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Prior to the trip, the Curtin students attended a training session conducted by dental officers from the Sarawak State Health Department.
“The training session was crucial to the group. As only two dental officers accompanied us, we had to assist them with tasks such as equipment sterilisation, waste disposal, tooth charting and other minor tasks,” commented Kristy.
Kristy, who handled the registration of the villagers for treatment, added that most of the villagers did not have identity cards and some had no idea of their birth dates.
Meanwhile, Leong hopes the mission has made a good impact on the villagers.
“I think it was a good start to inculcating a healthy lifestyle within the community. I hope the villagers will continue to practise dental hygiene. After we distributed the toothbrushes and toothpaste, we saw the villagers enthusiastically brushing their teeth the next morning,” he said.
On the mission’s last day at the village, the villagers gathered to show their appreciation and presented rottan bags as gifts to the team. The team also donated a few boxes of used clothing and footwear collected by the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Lutong.
Ling said a follow-up trip sometime early next year is in the planning. In the meantime, the team will continue to raise funds to cover transportation charges and dental supplies. The team wishes to thank Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau; Dato’ Sebastian Ting, JCI Lutong, the Sarawak State Health Department and individual donors for their support towards ‘The Forgotten Smiles’ project.
For more information on ‘The Forgotten Smiles’ project and the recent dental mission, visit the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheForgottenSmilesProject or its blog at theforgottensmiles.blogspot.com. Those who are interested to donate funds or used clothing to the project can contact group leader Esther Ling at 012-889 0040 or e-mail [email protected].
For more information on Curtin Sarawak, visit its website at www.curtin.edu.my, its Facebook page at facebook.com/CurtinUniversitySarawakMalaysia, Twitter profile at twitter.com/curtinsarawak, YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/CurtinUniSarawak, or Instagram at instagram.com/curtinsarawak.