One of the people we profiled is local retired dentist Wally Brown.
Mission: Providing critical dental work, primarily tooth extractions, in impoverished villages. Areas of Operation: Mostly Nepal, though Brown has also traveled to India, Guatemala and Israel.
What he does: More than two decades ago, Wally Brown, a retired dentist and active Rotarian, teamed up with a local humanitarian group to travel into Israel and perform much-needed dental work in some of the country’s poverty-stricken regions. Soon, he was traveling to Guatemala, India and Nepal, extracting hundreds of rotting teeth, toting toothbrushes and paste and teaching villagers about dental hygiene.
Ten trips later—six of which have been to the tiny Nepalese village of Okhlepani—and Brown is hooked, primarily because he needs to be. “Wherever you get electricity, you get stacks of Coke cases and cheap candy, so the dental problems are exponential,” he says. “In the decade [I’ve been] going to Okhlepani, kids’ teeth are looking worse—much worse.”
Working out of a tin-roofed shelter, Brown pulls dozens of rotten teeth each hour during his weeklong visits and depends on locals to spread news to other villages that he’s in town. “Even with one phone in each village, the word gets out. It’s amazing. They just start coming.”
Still, it’s an uphill battle. Brown will work with one or two of the young adults, who typically know enough English to serve as rough translators, to educate locals about the importance of daily brushing and staying away from sugary snacks. But many rural Nepalese—and most others in Third World nations—don’t follow up on prevention. “They’ll go till they’re swollen or infected, and then they’ll have teeth taken out,” he explains.
Though dentistry was Brown’s career, his expeditions focus on more than just teeth. To maximize the impact of his trips, he teamed up with California-based The Wheelcair Foundation to hand out wheelchairs across Nepal. “The Rotary Club of Katmandu contacts clubs and and then arranges to distribute them 10, 20, 30 at a time,” says Brown, who has brought chairs along on two trips. Brown, who retired in 2003, has yet to slate his next trip, but he anticipates he’ll hop on a plane to Nepal sometime soon. “I don’t know how I’ll avoid it,” he says, noting the missions have become a staple in his life. “But what I do is just a drop in the bucket.”
By the numbers 10+ hours needed to travel approximately 80 miles into Okhlepani from Katmandu 200 approximate number of people living in the village's 18 homes 200 most number of teeth extracted in one day $1 average daily income in Okhlepani 560 wheelchairs distributed across Nepalese villages
How to help Brown works with both the Sugar House Rotary and ChoiceHUMANITARIAN out of West Jordan, both of which accept cash donations. Visit the Rotary Club of Sugar House at rotaryclubofsugarhouse.org and ChoiceHUMANITARIAN at choicehumanitarian.org/donate.