Posted on 7th May 2019
With National Volunteer Week (May 20-26) fast approaching, it’s the ideal time to celebrate the tireless efforts of volunteers within the dental field.
The Tzu Chi International Medical Association (a sub-organisation of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, known for short as the Tzu Chi Foundation) has been operating in Australia since 2002, and in Perth since 2013.
Tzu Chi Foundation operates in the areas of charity, medicine, education, humanistic culture, environmental protection, international relief, bone marrow donation and community volunteering. The focus in Australia in medicine is within dental and auxiliary health care.
With an aim to help refugees, the homeless and the disadvantaged, Dr Lydia See, Tzu Chi volunteer and coordinator of TIMA Perth projectssays they found in Australia that dentistry was the most needed health service, with dental fair events established to not only provide dental treatment, but also oral health education.
“We have gone from a twice-yearly dental fair to dental clinics for the homeless and refugees,” Lydia says. “We have also been trialling a monthly clinic model and that is where we are heading towards, so we are able to see our patients more and take them from A-Z with their treatment.”
Lydia says the pro bono treatment offered would not be possible without their volunteers – and this includes input from both their clinical and non-clinical volunteers.
“Our medical mission is based on the whole concept of humanistic medicine,” she says. “We look at the patient as a whole. Our clinical team obviously helps the patient, and integral in all of that is our non-clinical team; they accompany the patient, support them and make sure they are well looked after as if they are the volunteers’ family member.”
“Many of our homeless and refugee patients are quite scared of the dentist so that has really helped to build rapport with the patients,” she adds. “Non-medical volunteers – also help with transport, food and other non-clinical jobs so there is a very large team in the background.”
The impact the foundation is making is great, with Lydia saying on average each month, about 30 volunteers help between 20-25 patients. These volunteers from all walks of life include dental students, dental hygiene students, professional and non-professional workers and retirees. She encourages anyone thinking about volunteering to get in touch.
“At the heart of it, volunteers are the true backbone of our project work,” she explains. “If we didn’t have volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to make a difference. Their energy and their passion affects the whole atmosphere and the patients do feel that.
“If we can send a patient out of the clinic with a big smile, then our job is done. We have a lot of fun and it really does have an impact on the people that we help. At the core of it, we not only want to change our patients’ lives but our own lives as well through the action of volunteering.
“We get patients who come through the door and they don’t smile and don’t talk,” she adds. “They are too scared to go out. For these patients, sometimes just by getting two front teeth done, we have the feedback from their carer saying that the patient would not stop smiling throughout the entire car ride home.
“When you hear stories like that and you share it with the clinician who saw them on the day, it brings such a great warmth and joy to the volunteers. It gives these patients confidence and we can see we are changing lives with one little action.”