Jaspal Sandhu

Jaspal Sandhu Treats Moroccan Tribes For Charity

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

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How often are we presented with an opportunity to do something different? Something that, whilst intriguing, sits outside of our normal comfort zone?

This was the situation I found myself in one morning last August upon reading an email inviting me to join a group of people to support their efforts in starting a brand new dental charity.

Their objective was to help provide dental care for the most needy around the world. I was also warned that, as a participant, I would be likely to experience some discomfort and even a little danger.

I deliberated, but this time I did take the opportunity. Perhaps I was subconsciously reminded of the title of this article.

The initial project focused on travelling to a remote fishing village called El Jebah, in the Rif mountains of Morocco to provide care for an ancient tribe, known as the ‘Berbers’.

A member of our group had recently visited the area. While he was there, he met a doctor who was solely responsible for the medical care of 50,000 people. However, due to the lack of funding, the Berber tribe were in desperate need of a dentist.

Our aim was to help a group of Berber school children with education, simple restorations and extractions where necessary.

There followed a frantic few weeks of scrounging for as many dental supplies to take with us as possible.

My journey began on the 24th of September travelling to Malaga, in Spain to be introduced to the rest of my party. Early the next morning we travelled by minibus from Southern Spain on the high speed ferry to Tangier, ‘The gateway to Morocco’.

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Passing through Customs in Tangier can be a long and drawn out procedure, involving ‘greasing’ several palms. It was also important that our dental supplies were not discovered as this would have created further delays and the risk of being ‘invited’ to remain in the custody of the officials! Fortunately, after an uneventful encounter we were allowed to continue on our journey.

In order not to cause offence, we were reminded about some of the customs of this deeply religious country. Firstly, the elderly do not take kindly to their photos being taken. Secondly, and much more 3 importantly, most Moroccan food is eaten by hand. Therefore, if invited to join someone for a meal, one should always eat with the right hand as the left is supposed to be used for the toilet!
Our journey continued South East by minibus for about three hours through a vast, dry, rocky landscape.

However, there could not have been any greater contrast between this and our first night’s destination, ‘Chechaouen’.

Pronounced ‘Chef Chowan’, it is nicknamed the ‘Blue City of the Rif’, and it was easy to see why. It is built directly into the hills which nestle between two mountain peaks in the Rif, such that, as we approached, we were afforded a perfect view of the whole town. A truly stunning sight!

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Chechaouen is a stunningly beautiful town with its blue painted walls and its quaint narrow cobbled streets.

The following day started slightly earlier than expected. We hadn’t been warned about the Muslim prayers which are broadcast by loudspeaker. The first one of the day starts at about 4.15am!

We set off on a six hour trek high into the Rif the following day ending with an overnight stop in the infamous trekkers stop off at the Albergue De Azaline. At 2000m above sea level, and in the heart of the illegal hash fields that form a major part of the export trade of Morocco, this ‘hotel’ offers no electricity, hole in the floor toilets, and bedding that probably carry bugs from a hundred different countries, but with a 5 star service!

It is owned by Abdul Carear. An amazingly happy and gracious man who was only too happy to provide for our every needs. Home-made bread, sweet mint tea and cheese on arrival followed by a candlelit dinner, a traditional Moroccan ‘Tagine‘ consisting of gristly meat and stewed vegetables.

That evening, as some of our party felt obliged, to join Abdul in a post dinner ‘kif pipe’, we were afforded an unforgettable view of the North African sky at night. With no ground lighting to dim the view, we stared up at a starry night the likes of which none of us had ever witnessed before.

After a less than restful night’s sleep, a cold shower with water fed directly from a mountain spring awoke us sharply in preparation for the next leg of our journey. With the aid of a donkey to carry our luggage that we affectionately nicknamed ‘Geraldine’, we trekked downhill for 7 hours through various Berber settlements.

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Onwards through Rif Mountains we glimpsed monkeys and continued along a one-foot wide mountain path sometimes narrowing to only a few centimetres where it cascaded vertically hundreds of feet down to the village of Akchour.

The following day, another minibus journey led us higher up into the mountains passing through towns thriving on the hash trade, particularly Bab Beret, the ‘Dodge City’ of Morocco! Once we had crossed over the mountain peaks, we began descending along a narrow, winding mountainside road towards our final destination, El Jebah.

Such was the sheer beauty of the unspoilt landscape that some of us cycled the last 35km.

With its steep slopes, potholes, sharp turns and constant traffic, this was an exhausting, frightening but exhilarating finale to our expedition.

Such was the warmth and gratitude of the locals to our arrival that we were afforded accommodation in a hotel that had been newly refurbished in our honour. Redwan, the ex Mayor of El Jebah, personally escorted us around the premises and proudly displayed its many facilities, including a newly built communal shower, running water that was almost warm, and toilets that you could sit on! Although, the hole in the floor option did remain for those of us who wished to remain ‘native’. We gracefully declined.

The sense of pride, gratitude and sincerity in this man for our visit was truly overwhelming for us all.

The following morning, we were taken to a local primary school courtesy of the headmaster and met with a team of doctors, dentists and ambassadors from Morocco, Belgium and France.

Our treatment room, if you could call it that, was a small classroom with rows of chairs and desks upon which we laid out our supplies of instruments: mirrors, probes, needles, and forceps. No dental chairs, or overhead lights and no opportunity to hide these from full view of the children.

In an adjacent classroom, small groups of children were assembled and given basic education on caring for their teeth and gums.

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A quick show of hands revealed that less than a quarter of the children actually possessed their own toothbrush and, of these, very few actually used them. Not surprising then, that, together with their very sugary diet, they suffered from severe dental neglect.

Due to a limit of supplies and facilities, it was agreed that we would treat the most urgent cases. Our intention was to restore teeth wherever possible, but such was the degree of decay that almost all the children that we saw needed extractions.

We continued working for the rest of the day treating as many children as we possibly could. The vast majority of these had never seen a dentist before, and it was obvious that some of them would have been suffering from extreme toothache for months!

Imagine then, if you can, sitting in a classroom, watching as your friends are led, one by one, by strangers into another room. The initial excitement rapidly waning as you begin to realise that this is no ordinary day at school. And all the while, quietly waiting for your own turn.

I would like to emphasise that we exercised all possible avenues of minimising pain for these children, in exactly the same way that your own dentist does back here. However, having teeth out is a traumatic experience at the best of times. Additionally, these children did not have the luxury of a common language, a positive previous dental experience to draw comfort from, or a reassuring parent to hold their hands.

Nevertheless, they exhibited a sense of calmness beyond their years and allowed us to treat them with such bravery and stoicism as I have never witnessed before, and still find difficult to comprehend.

Perhaps it is the amount of poverty and suffering that most of them have to endure which has hardened them, or maybe it is due to the strictness of their upbringing. These children have next to nothing, but they are as warm and happy as any you would ever wish to meet and it was a great honour to be in their company.

By the day’s end, we had treated only about 50 children. Not many, considering the school numbers around 600 in total. However, as one of our party reminded us, for those 50 children, we did make a difference.  Particular recognition for the success of this trip must be made to a great many people.

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The Moroccan Team – an international group of ambassadors, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and students whose assistance and guidance was invaluable

Tony Gedge – an infectiously funny man, and a visionary without whom this trip would never have been conceived.

Cally Gedge – incredibly welcoming, gracious and very entertaining.

Domien Dom – our tour guide, interpreter, and ‘go-to man’. His industry, calmness and complete lack of fear made this trip so memorable. A man to raise your spirits!

Michael Day – great company and an excellent cyclist.

My three excellent dental colleagues:

Michael Oliver – a giant gentle Geordie who selflessly took the worst that Moroccan food poisoning could offer on our behalf, but still came out smiling. And a bloody good photographer whose photos I have borrowed for this article!

Chris Branfield – my room buddy to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude for his great company, his tolerance to snoring and other loud noises in the night!

Teresa Day – you saw the mountain and you conquered it. Living proof that we can all leap out of our comfort zones and still overcome.

To my new friends, I owe my heartfelt thanks for allowing me to join them and welcoming me so warmly.

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

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Dalmaira, or Maira for short, is 8 years old. And she’s in pain. From a horribly decayed lower first molar. She’s sitting in our chair in our ‘MASH’ tent in El Jebba on a very warm Tuesday morning. I say our chair because I’m working with Amy, a dental therapist, whom I first met and teamed with last year.

The tooth needs to come out. But did I mention that it’s horribly decayed?

Anyway, Amy and I have developed an almost instinctive working relationship. One where we don’t need to prep each other about what to do, or say. We use our very limited pigeon Arabic. Mix it with some French, Spanish, English and masses of body language, and we can communicate. So that ultimately, a language barrier isn’t a barrier.

We go through breathing techniques with every child we see. We try to make them laugh. And most of the time, we do.

Maira was brilliant. Not once did she flinch let alone get upset. But I couldn’t get her tooth out. It kept crumbling. Again and again. And I was struggling.

Despite Amy’s help, what remained of the tooth was becoming less and less visible. Access was becoming more difficult and even though it was loosening, it wasn’t coming out.

As our team were stopping for lunch, Maira was the only child still being treated. Richard Howarth, one of my dental muckers, came over to help. So did Chris Branfield. Another dentist friend who I met when I came out on my first Dental Maverick trip in 2010.

They both offered advice as to the best instruments to use, as well as the technique. But I wasn’t succeeding. Laura, a nurse had come to help as well by now. And with her and Amy’s help, I drilled the roots to separate them.

And Maira? Well, she was still perfectly ok. Despite the fact that she’d now been in the chair for about 45 minutes.

Eventually, both Richard and Chris suggested that I take a break. I refused. I was tired, but this had become a matter of pride. After another failed attempt, I took stock. I was acting selfishly. Letting my personal pride get in the way of Maira’s welfare. So I asked Chris to take over. He did without hesitation and, shortly after he’d managed to extract the tooth.

When Maira left our ‘MASH’ tent, she was met with a chorus of applause from the rest of our team. And she deserved it. I stayed behind. Feeling a mixture of shame and embarrassment. And as for having my photo taken with her, no chance! Anyway, I did. But only after others’ insistence.

And I wonder why I do this.

But, every year I see at least one child who manages to break through my testosterone impregnated guard. A child who demonstrates a strength of mind and composure that is so wildly unbecoming of their age that it fills me with awe.

Last year, it was Ayesha. This year, Maira. And even though my memory is failing, I’ll never forget them.

This was my third visit with the Dental Mavericks. The ‘WHAT’ we do and the ‘HOW’ we do it are self explanatory. But, if you were to ask any of us ‘WHY’ we do it, I suspect that you’d get several different answers:

‘Helping rid the children of dental pain’,

‘Leaving a worthwhile legacy’,

‘Doing good for others’.

These are just some examples and they’re all equally worthy. In fact, I often use them myself.

But, there is another ‘WHY’. One that I experienced in abundance this last week. And that is ‘Building Strong Relationships’. I consider many of our team to be firm friends. Even the newer Mavericks, as well as some of our Moroccan hosts. And that’s priceless.

According to recent research, having close friends you can count on has massive benefits for your physical and mental health. A strong social network can be critical to helping you through the stress of tough times.

I believe that. Last week proved it to me.

Later that day, I thanked Richard and Chris. Not just for helping me but for not pulling rank. I knew that they both wanted me to take a break. Let someone else try. But they weren’t insistent. Just supportive. And the reason for that is because we know each other well. We’ve become friends.

We’ve built strong relationships.

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See What Our Volunteers Say About Their Experience

After being back home for 2 days after spending a week with dental mavericks the adrenaline is still flowing 😄 I don’t think you can appreciate the hard work everybody puts in with helping these children until you have tried it yourself. It’s a mission to help as many children as possible in the the time you have which in itself is a huge accomplishment and so very rewarding.The people who run this are absolutely amazing and make you feel so welcome 🤗 If anybody is hesitant about volunteering I’d say just do it because I then guarantee it wont be the last time😉 I will definitely be back x
So many gorgeous, happy faces. The best of times with the Mavericks team, working together was a privilege that shaped me. It was the honour of my life to be able to serve these beautiful children, helping them to smile again. I can’t wait to be back in the T-shirt again. Thank you to everyone on this trip, especially to the clinical yin to my yang Jas and to Michael who deserves credit for documenting all of these touching moments with his photography skills xxx#dentalcharity #dental #charity #dentaltherapist #dentalmavericks #morocco #volunteer
I was lucky to participate with this organized professional organisation.the team was lovely and so friendly, and i will recommend all the dentist to try this amazing experience,till the next one, see you soon team ❤️❤️😘😘.
It was great experience 🙂🙂🙂
What an amazing experience I had when I volunteered to help out on one of the trips to the Rif mountains with Dental Mavericks. This was the most exhilarating and rewarding thing I have ever done. I had never been to Morocco before so I was a little apprehensive about what to expect, but I can honestly say that with all of the organisation and planning that the Dental Mavericks team do (Cally Gedge and Kerri Geddes) I need not have been worried, I was in safe hands! We took the ferry over to Tangier and then travelled on to Chefchouene where we stayed for 3 days. I helped out with the oral hygiene, applying the flouride to the children and sitting with them after they'd had extractions. I was amazed at how brave these children are. If I ever have the opportunity of returning then I wouldn't hesitate. Thank you Team Dental Mavericks, the work you do is amazing xx
Every year at MPOD we have a competition, the prize is a fully paid trip to collaborate with one of Dental Mavericks’ projects. Being the newest addition to the team, you can imagine the surprise when my name was the one picked out of the bag. But even more surprising was the destination of the trip that Cally told me a bit later: Lebanon.I didn’t know much about this country, and most of the news from there is related to refugees. Anyway, upon arrival we received a warm welcome from Basima and her relatives. We were to spend the next week at her house and from the minute we set foot inside we were made to feel part of the family. My task on the trip was to take pictures, so I was able to observe as much as I wanted. What I saw was a country in a really harsh situation, but with people resolved not to lose their smiles or their will to improve their situation.During the trip we visited several places. A school founded by an NGO focused on Syrian refugee kids’ education. The clinic, where the professional team of Gina (nurse) and Anna (dentist), the two other volunteers, would perform treatments to anyone in need showing up at the door. And an orphanage, full of buzzing kids playing around, laughing and eager to get a picture of themselves.In all these places I found nothing but kindness and gratitude. From the kids, from the teachers, from the patients and from the people involved on the project. I can’t recommend the experience enough to anyone willing to help and ready to receive a dose of reality.
WELL... where do I begin?! 🤯 I can genuinely say that this trip has been AMAZING from start to finish. Every moment, every second. 💫 I had no idea what to expect but it has surpassed any expectation I ever could have had. I’ve learned so much 🥰 I have met people who are truly beautiful inside and out that have fully embraced me, I have seen a different way of life and can only hope to see more of and continue to learn about in the future. The work ethic of these people is like nothing I have ever come across before. 👏🏽 I will forever be thankful for this opportunity can not wait for more in the future. 🙏🏼 A special thank you to Gina Louise Goddard Cally Gedge Amin and Manar for everything this week from making me feel so comfortable to having me belly laughing all day long. My heart belongs to you dentistry and the dental mavericks particularly! ♥️
After my second trip to Morocco with DM I’m so proud to be part of such an amazingly dedicated team working tirelessly to achieve valuable life changing treatments for all those kiddies in dental pain, and setting new goals for sustainability in future generations!www.dentalmavericks.org
Amazing experiece would recommend anyone to do it
Wow. So proud of this team. Worked so hard for our patients and each other. Humble enough to learn from each other and grow. Now, there’s a recipe for success. Worked side by side with my son as a clinician. Got back last night from my 14th Dental Maverick expedition. Up in remote, rural villages in the Rif mountains of Morocco getting kids out of daily pain, giving oral health education, preventive fluoride therapy and enough toothpaste and tooth brushes for the foreseeable future. 1600 benefactors!!!We sponsored a football tournament organised by Rif Com to build bridges and develop trust. This is really good for the soul. I’ve done a good few of these now but this was the best. If you want to get involved message me or go to www.dentalmavericks.org. It just might change your life. It did mine. And those of the kids. HERE’S TO MAKING A DIFFERENCE!!!https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/…/finalCharityHomepage.act…
Hello everyone! I have just returned from 7 days in Morroco 🇲🇦 working within Asni alongside the Dental Mavericks. Wow what can I say what a rewarding and life changing experience! I couldn’t have wished for a nicer group of people I was working alongside an also the local village people were very welcoming an very friendly an very much respected what the Dental Mavericks team have helped them with ending their daily dental pain. I would totally recommend taking part in this project. I didn’t want to come back! I will be returning next year!! 😘😘
I have just returned from a week in Asni,Morocco with the Mavericks and can honestly say its has been such a rewarding experience.I was part of an amazing group and we all got on so well we did not want to leave. The Asni community was full of wonderful people and they were all very appreciative of our time in the village getting them out of dental pain. 🥰Looking forward to helping on another project with you next year
having done 4 trips with Mavericks I can say hand on heart no ome will regret going on a adventure with themchanges lives including your own for the better and make amazing friends and memories !!! come on join our family xx
Had an incredible time as part of Project Essaouira, Morocco 2019... one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever done and I miss it already. It was the dream team, thank you for looking after us so well 😊❤️
We were privileged to spend 2 weeks in Lebanon Bekka Valley with DentalMavericks. It was an eye opening experience to work with refugees and children.DentalMavericks provides an important role providing dental care for the most disadvantaged group in this area. Well done.We wish you all the best. 🙂
Last week I finished the project with DM in Bekka Valley. Since day 1 I got so much love and support from Cally, other volunteers and the team on the ground (not to forget Kerry who helped organise everyhting before the trip) The only downside could be you fall in love with Lebanon and can’t wait to go back.
Recently returned from my first trip to Asni Morocco ( but won't be my last ).The Dental Mavericks are a well run charity, everything about the trip was organised and I felt very well supported by Cally and all her team. If you are looking for a rewarding trip, outside of your comfort zone but one which is an amazing, humbling experience then you should definitely sign up
Amazing amazing AMAZING experience. I loved every minute, I would recommend it to anyone! Kerri did an amazing job for her first solo trip with a group and it was just nothing I have ever experienced. The people are lovely and are so appreciative of you being there. Working with Richard and becoming a dental nurse was wonderful and just made me want to become a dental nurse even more than before! I would definitely go back and would recommend in anyone into going! Thank you dental mavericks for an amazing trip and an experience of a life time!
Keep up the good work !! Proud of Your amazing work
I’ve been involved with Dental Mavericks for 5 years and have recently come back from my 5th project in the Rif Mountains. Over the years I’ve worked with people from all walks of life from all over the world, people who have one purpose while on these projects, to take these beautiful children out of daily dental pain. Ive made some awesome friends. It's the most incredible and fulfilling experience that I've ever been involved with and an absolute privilege to work with such inspirational people and to call myself a Maverick. Thank you Dental Mavericks for the opportunity x
It's the most incredible and fulfilling experience that I've ever got involved in. I'm so grateful that I was given the opportunity to join the Dental Mavericks, and I can't wait to go back!
What an absolute privilege for our NZ team of dental volunteers to join the Dental Mavericks in Morocco. They are a fabulous group, passionate about sparking positive and lasting change, for the Moroccan community's we worked in. If you want to add some fun and real meaning to your travels, get involved it will change you forever. �
Dental Mavericks have given me a wonderful life changing experience to work alongside them in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. This is a fantastic opportunity for any Dental Professional to become involved with. It opened my eyes to the harsh reality of such huge numbers of displaced refugees. In my ignorance, I previously thought of them as homeless and poor, rather than of who they are professionally before they found themselves in the circumstances they are currently in today. Having experienced day to day life in a refugee camp, it made me connect fully with the people and gave me an understanding and awareness I wouldn't have gained otherwise. I would therefore like to thank the Dental Mavericks team for a fantastic experience that cannot be gained by simply reading about it alone. I thoroughly recommend this to anyone considering volunteering for such an amazing cause.