Last November, a team of nine Practice Plan volunteers packed their overalls and scrubbing brushes and travelled to Tanzania, Africa, for a trip that will remain imprinted in their minds for a lifetime.
But just before they embarked on a life-changing care-centre renovation project, their first goal was to complete the final leg of the famous UK National Relay. This was devised in order to raise funds for the trip to Tanzania, involving a baton being passed from one dental practice to another throughout the country, with plenty of amusing activities along the way.
The baton actually started its journey in Tanzania, where it was handcrafted by the children of Bukumbi care centre. It was then flown to the UK and delivered to Black Isle Dental Studio in Inverness. It travelled down the east and south of the country before moving through to Wales and the northwest. For its final exchange, it was flown back to Tanzania where four members of the Practice Plan team ran the final leg from Hope Dental Centre in Mwanza Town to the Bukumbi care centre, 32km away.
In searing heat, along busy roads and dirt tracks, Jamie Dallow, Pam Rowland, Steve Turnock and Lynne Womersley took just four hours and 30 minutes to complete the run. The baton had covered more than 12,000 miles and raised approximately £7,000. Overall, Practice Plan raised an astounding £27,000, from which Bridge2Aid were able to buy the materials, tools and labour to begin the restoration project.
Bridge2Aid is a charity working in the Mwanza region of north-west Tanzania. It works closely with the Tanzanian Government to deliver long-term and sustainable programmes, as well as offering a dental clinic in the city of Mwanza and running a free community development programme for the poor. In February 2008, a few Practice Plan employees visited Bukumbi, a care centre for the disabled, and saw first-hand the living conditions in which the community existed. From that moment, they pledged to return and continue the fantastic work of Bridge2Aid.
The aptly named ‘Restoration Squad’ included Practice Plan staff Julie Modena, Pam Rowland, Audrey Harrington, Jamie Dallow, Anna Gronnow, Emma Sillars, Dave Blumfield, Lynne Womersley and dental practice manager Lisa Boyes from Anne Davidson & Associates in Newcastle. They spent a fortnight in Bukumbi living, working and breathing the care centre and, in particular, the Jumbe Block that they set about transforming.
When the team arrived, they were faced with filthy walls, windows thick with cobwebs and dead insects on the floor. Armed with rubber gloves, brushes, and water collected from the local lake, they began scrubbing from top to bottom. After days of cleaning in the sweltering heat, the painting began and the whole place started to take on a new lease of life. The metal bed frames were cleaned and polished, and new mattresses, sheets and mosquito nets were provided for every room.
Jamie Dallow said: ‘The work we did was physically demanding; we were on our hands and knees washing the floors, and painting continuously – and all this in the blistering heat. The local residents kept us well-fed, watered and entertained with their dancing and singing. There was never a dull moment and it was so rewarding.’
The hard work started a long time before the renovation began. Alongside the National Relay fundraising, individual Practice Plan volunteers set their own challenges in an attempt to raise funds. Jamie completed a demanding 20 hours cycling over three days, from Offa’s Dyke in Chepstow, through South Wales, to the end of the dyke in Prestatyn, North Wales.
Deputy chair Steve Turnock, along with team members Julie Modena and Lynne Womersley, completed the daunting Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. Scaling three of Yorkshire’s highest peaks, Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, totalling 23.6 miles, the group completed the mammoth climb in just 10 hours and 56 minutes.
The months of fundraising followed by two weeks of restoration were worth every second, as Anna Gronnow, Practice Plan’s marketing coordinator, explains: ‘It was an incredibly emotional moment as we revealed the newly decorated Jumbe Block to its residents. Although we worked hard – and it was extremely tough at times – what we did seemed very little effort for the amount of happiness we brought to these people’s lives.’
All the hard work and effort was rewarded with the look on the faces of the residents as they were welcomed back to their home. Three-year-old Ema suffers from a painful skin condition but, through fundraising, Bridge2Aid has provided him with essential, pain-relieving treatment. Tito was living next to a toilet until Bridge2Aid helped him into clean, dry accommodation. For these people, who had been forced to live on the streets, the impact of Practice Plan’s work was enormous.
Practice Plan also supports other organisations. In March staff dressed as famous film and television stars to support Comic Relief, and many staff are due to take part in a sponsored skydive on 30 May to raise for individual charities.