There are endless amounts of countries, territories and states across our globe in dire need of dental care for the underprivileged. During the past four years I have spent a week each summer providing dental care for the orphaned and disadvantaged of Armenia. This irreplaceable and one of a kind experience has shown to be fulfilling, gratifying and educational all at the same time.
"Jambar" or camp as its known in Armenian, has become one of the many programs set up through the Church of Armenia for the orphans as well as the underprivileged. Jambar is located in Camp Siranoush, in a charming, picturesque area of southwestern Armenia, relatively near the town of Yeghegnadzor (within the Vayotz Dzor province) and adjacent to the beautiful Arpa River. Hosted by Archbishop Ibrahim, Primate of the Diocese of Suinik, between one and two hundred orphans and/or underprivileged children come from eight different regions of Armenia and Georgia for each of the three camp sessions that are held each summer.
At Jambar the children have an opportunity to swim, play sports, sing, dance, fish, and design arts and crafts. During the evenings they have an opportunity to socialize and perform their talents (acting, singing, dancing) for each other, as well as learn more about their religious and cultural birthright. Similar to many of the summer camps in United States, the children develop friendships and memories that are both invaluable and last a lifetime.
One of the more unique aspects of the camp, along with the regular day to day camp activities, is the opportunity the children get to receive dental care performed by passionate and dedicated dentists and volunteers from all over the world. Armenian Dental Volunteers have been providing free dental care for the poor, orphaned and underpriveliged since 1994 with Dr. Viken Garabedian of Laguna Niguel, California as the catalyst. The program began, as Dr. Garabedian explained to me, with lawn chairs, flashlights, and all things basic. In 1998, the dental clinic as is today was completed with aid from the Armenian Dental Society of California. Today it operates as a modern four operatory American Clinic, with an x-ray machine, dental tools, handpieces, and allmodern dental materials. With the influx of fresh supplies sent each year as well as those brought in by the volunteer dentists, it almost seems as if the Jambar Dental Clinic is more modern than many American dental offices!
Thus far I have made five successful dental outreach trips to Armenia. In 2008 I arrived green and fresh faced by Dr. Viken Garabedian and his team of dentists. Little did I know, but included in the 2008 late July-early August dental team were long time volunteers Dr. Charles Tatosian (an endodontist from Laguna Niguel, California), as well as Dr. Jeffrey Wittmus (general dentist from Chicago, Illinois). During that session our team (which also included our brother dentists from Armenia and Karabagh), completed more than a hundred treatment plans which included each child receiving an exam, cleaning and fluoride treatment as well as hundreds of amalgam and composite fillings, countless extractions and as many root canals as Dr. Tatosian could manage to complete during out 12 hour work days over the two week span.
In July of 2009, I was lucky enough to return to Jambar and have an opportunity to work with the same "all-star team", I worked with in 2008. What a joy it was returning to Jambar and seeing many of the previous years' camp staff , volunteer dentists (from the Stepanakert all the way to Gymuri they came), as well as the familiar sight and sounds of the dental clinic submerged in a valley within the most breathtaking scenery one could ever imagine. The only difference from the year prior was that we each hauled a large suitcase with us halfway around the world filled with fresh dental supplies for the clinic (mine loaded with latex gloves and anesthesia). Just as in previous year, our team was able to complete the over one hundred treatment plans laid out before we began. Again we worked morning until dark, completing hundreds of composite and amalgam fillings, as well as countless more extractions and root canals, not to mention a select few "cosmetic cases" as well. This included each of the children (who ranged from ages 9-16) receiving an exam, cleaning and fluoride treatment.
One of the most difficult things of coming to Armenia and down to Jambar (not to mention the three hour drive through the mountains from Yerevan) was leaving. The children and staff would gather along the river in masses. Countless pictures were taken, contacts were exchanged and promises were made to return again the following year. The rewards of volunteer work were life changing for me... the lifelong friends and memories made, the look of appreciation and love from the children, and the feeling of self-satisfaction and fulfillment are truly priceless.