The Lines Never Cease

Victor Law, a fourth-year DMD student, knows he cannot learn in school what he gains by volunteering. This past summer [2008], he once again volunteered for Medical Aid for Vietnam (medicalaidforvietnam.org), an organization that provides medical and dental services to the poor in Vietnamese villages.

“What drew me back was knowing that I had the ability and, therefore the responsibility, to help relieve these people of oral pain that for some has lasted for years,” he says.

Victor, a native Vancouverite, has volunteered for community programs, conferences and dental health fairs since he was sixteen. He first volunteered for Medical Aid for Vietnam in 2005, when he was inspired by the Doctor, Patient and Society (DPAS) program—a precursor of UBC Dentistry’s Professionalism and Community Service (PACS) program— to look into the community responsibility aspect of his future profession. Through DPAS and his other dental courses, he became aware of the oral health disparities affecting those in poverty.

“I pushed myself to be better, to be more efficient and to be more adept.”
Victor Law

Up until Vietnam, he had never seen the kind of poverty he saw in its villages. “Throughout my experience, I did not examine even one healthy mouth of teeth. And I have never seen such destruction and decay [in the villages]—it compares to the chaos of a war movie,” he laments. Everywhere, long lines of often malnourished children and frail elderly greeted him as he stepped off a bus or a boat.

“These people simply live with the pain as their teeth crumble slowly and excruciatingly as they continue to survive life day to day.” Sometimes, when he gripped a tooth with a forceps, parts of the tooth crumbled away because there was barely any crown left. Other times, what crumbled was actually a cake of calculus that had built up from years of poor oral hygiene.

Victor knows the people are not to be blamed for their plight. They have had no one to teach them proper oral health hygiene and no money to afford a dentist, even if there had been one readily available.

Medical Aid for Vietnam, with its 15 years of experience, is highly proficient at setting up everything in advance, including notifying the villagers and reserving space for a temporary clinic. Not everyone can be treated, however, as the need is great in the many villages. The lines never disappear at the end of the day.

The never-ending lines brought sorrow and burden to Victor’s heart. As time ran out each day, he watched helplessly as unserved people were dismissed.

“I pushed myself to be better, to be more efficient and to be more adept,” he says. Looking back, Victor knows he developed better skills and managed to increase the number of patients served from 15 to 40 per day.

Still, he knows the lines never cease. And, he says, more help is needed. “I know I have to return.”

Dr. Victor Law graduated in 2009.

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