BY ISABELLE LANDAETA | December 4, 2014
When we think of poverty we immediately imagine starving children and their mothers who are unable to provide even the most basic necessities for their families. I spent this summer volunteering at Nyumbani Village in Kenya. The Village has taken in nearly 1,000 HIV-affected orphans, and there they receive all the basic necessities their families were unable to give them: three meals every day, medical care, an education, etc. But despite the large donations Nyumbani receives, feeding that many mouths is expensive, and inevitably other, lower-priority needs cannot be addressed. After spending two months there it was easy to see what the children were lacking. One of my friends, a recent nursing-school graduate, held hygiene and sanitation workshops. There she noticed that the kids didn’t have toothbrushes or toothpaste. They used branches from a special tree as toothpicks in order to clean their teeth. This explains why many of them had permanently stained teeth.
Back in Madrid at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas, we decided to propose a project that could provide all the children with access to dental hygiene. First, we would collect toothbrushes to send to the orphanage. The University’s solidarity department helped us put up collection points in every department of the University. During two weeks, there were boxes to drop off toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste, which we had to empty at least twice a week because they filled up so quickly. Ultimately, and with the help of one very large donation from Procter & Gamble, we collected 2,487 toothbrushes and 1,623 tubes of toothpaste. The campaign was an absolute success.
Still, providing for that many mouths is expensive, and we would have to be on a permanent quest for toothpaste if we were to send enough for one thousand kids to brush their teeth three times a day, every day. So we came up with the second part of our project: homemade toothpaste. Not the fancy, Shailene Woodley, hippie-ish kind, but the cheapest, most effective way of cleaning teeth kind. A mixture of salt, baking soda, and water, this is meant to be a simple way for the kids to make their own toothpaste and be able to brush their teeth.
Last month we sent the first thousand brushes as well as 200 sample-sized pastes for the kids to learn to brush their teeth. We’re still looking for funding for the homemade toothpaste, since the organization will most likely not be able to permanently provide the ingredients for the kids to make it.
If have any ideas or would like to support the project, please contact the author, Isabel Landaeta.
Isabel will graduate next June from Universidad Pontificia de Comillas in Madrid, Spain, with a degree in Translation and Interpreting, and will also complete her masters in Governance and Human Rights at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. She was born in Venezuela and lived in Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile before moving to Spain. Interested in human rights, she wrote her final paper for the IB diploma on HR Violations in Failed States. She has enjoyed volunteering for a long time, and spent this summer at an orphanage in Kenya immersing herself in the local culture and helping kids affected by HIV. Isabel participated in internship programs at Hewlett-Packard Chile’s legal department, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations (ECLAC) in Chile, and currently at RR Donnelley in Madrid. After graduating, she wants to join an NGO involved in microfinance for women where she expects to apply her experience in cultural diversity to work on poverty reduction.