I went away to Vancouver for part of this past week for a dental conference. I was lucky enough to spend lots of time with a friend and former college classmate of mine, and I learned a few things as well (100% Xylitol chewing gum people, it's worth the extra money), but I wanted to share the best thing I heard:
At the end of one session the presenter shared her experience of going around the world to India to spend a week providing dental care in an orphanage there. Her help was very primitive, as a reflection of the facilities and supplies that were available to her. The first day she ended up pulling teeth from 8 children even though as a hygienist that isn't her usual work. She gave each child who got an extraction a piece of gauze to bite on to stop the bleeding and sent them on their way. That night she went to check on the children who'd had a tooth pulled - they were still biting on that gauze! She took the gauze away from each of them, gave them a hug and tucked them in bed.
The next morning when she reached the 'clinic' all the children were lined up for dental work, which slightly annoyed her because she wasn't ready to start that early. She asked the workers from the orphanage why did they bring the children when it wasn't yet time? The adults told her that they hadn't brought the children, rather they'd come on their own. Because she couldn't communicate with the children, she had the orphanage workers ask the children why were they there? Every child replied that they wanted to get a tooth pulled. Well, this hygienist couldn't believe that and had the children questioned again. The children expanded their answer to explain that the ones who had lost teeth the day before got a hug and tucked into bed so that's what they all wanted. She assured them that for the rest of the week she would give each child a hug and tuck them all in bed no matter what dental work she provided.
The thing is there's no way she would have taken on the project of travelling to rural India to tuck children in bed for a week, yet that was the service that the children craved the most. Dental care was just a vehicle to get her there.
It was really inspiring to me and a good reminder that probably quite often my objective in my service or daily work is secondary to the real needs around me.