It’s a typical story on the international volunteer circuit: dentist X volunteers in country Y for 2 weeks, extracts 700 teeth, places an equal number of sealants, has a memorable cultural experience and leaves feeling satisfied. Yet local people are left once again with raised expectations and few resources with which to fulfill them…
There can be much debate about the rights and wrongs of volunteer based programs. On a very simple and simplified level if we consider “volunteering” to be working – but without financial reward – then voluntary activities require the same level of consideration, ethics, planning, implementation and evaluation as any other sustained program.
There are many avenues to dental volunteering both in Australia and internationally. By seeking out those organisations that act responsibly and work in strong partnership with local agencies and governments, dental volunteers can provide an investment into local communities through skills transfer, offering support and most of all, respecting local conditions.
The past 5-10 years have seen an enormous growth in volunteer based projects. Most are genuine, though some can be a business disguised as a “charity” or NGO type program. Potential volunteers would be wise to investigate carefully any project they might be interested in, and if possible, contact others who have already worked on particular projects.
The Australian Dental Association had produced a checklist for those wishing to find out more about volunteering, and appropriate organisations.