Confronting, isnt it? This is just one of the many photos on the blog of Springwood dentist Graham Toulmin, who has been working tirelessly for 25 years trying to bring some dental respite for the people of the troubled Congo.
Dr Toulmin, 64, whose dedicated humanitarian work in the central African nation has saved dozens of lives, will return there on Saturday and this time he will be packing less dental equipment and more pens and papers and movie paraphernalia.
A documentary video crew from Eternity newspaper will follow his movements while he tracks the progress of dental work for his Master’s degree charting the development and planning of dental work there.
“The hope is we can show their stories and work out what still needs to happen. The people have great hope despite their hardships,” he said. Because of Dr Toulmin’s efforts in the region, three dental clinics are now operational in Butembo, Aru and Mahagi with trained locals managing them.
But it hasn’t been an easy ride. When he first went to Butembo as an Anglican Church missionary in 1987 his family lived in very primitive surrounds — using a long-drop toilet for a year. His makeshift dental clinic was little more than half a brick shell. The family had rough sleeping accommodation for nearly a year of their four-year placement and because correspondence lessons from Australia never arrived two of their four boys were sent away to boarding schools in Kenya.
“It was the last thing (wife) Wendy and I wanted, we specifically asked to go to a place where we could all stay together.
“Wendy was the real hero . . . I went away and did my dental work and she had to survive there with the kids in nappies and no water, no electricity. She used to wake us at 3am when it was raining so we could collect water in pots and pans.”
Every fifth dental patient had HIV (4000 pairs of gloves were recycled and re-sterilised) and the family also survived a frightening civil war, he said.
“In 1991 the whole country blew up and it just wasn’t safe for the family — Belgian paratroopers were dropping in to stabilise the area from the rioting — it was like being in a Rambo movie . . . I often thought, I am just a Springwood GP how did I end up here?
“In Australia a GP rarely saves a life but in the Congo just normal dentistry . . . doing extractions that have become totally infectious can save lives,” he said.
“An infected wisdom tooth can lead to a fatal closing of the airways if not treated soon enough.”
In the case of the man in the photo, teacher Jean Michel, who had cancer of the jaw, he was operated on by a specialist British surgeon — after his plight was identified by Dr Toulmin. He survived to use a $250 cheque from Springwood residents Joyce Adams and Fred Thompson to aid his recovery.
“Jean Michel was brought to tears by the gesture — it was the equivalent of eight months pay.”
Dr Toulmin is still trying to secure funding from Anglican Aid and others, to establish a training institute.
For more details see dentalsafariafrica.blogspot.com.au.
For before and after photos of Jean Michel see www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au.