The Uganda Project – Universal Smiles
In 2011 three dental students from the University of North School of Dentistry had a vision of beginning an outreach program to Uganda. Those three students (Marc Weber, Dan Hostrander, and Katie Payne) would eventually find themselves in late July in the middle of a village in Northern Uganda depending on a car’s headlights to provide light to treat the last few patients waiting to be seen that day.
One of the main goals of spending the week in Kampala, a bustling city full of dirt bikes and vans used for taxis, is building the relationship between UNC SOD and Makerere University. Over the seven years, many steps toward a promising partnership have taken place. Dr. Farmer has provided lectures to the faculty and students on multiple occasions regarding new advancements in dental technology. Dr. Adrian Kamulegeya and multiple Oral Surgery residents have travelled with Dr. Farmer to the remote villages in Northern Uganda to provide care alongside the dental students from UNC SOD. Starting in 2018 a team from Makerere will begin doing pathology consultations via teleconference for the first time, allowing for consultations with pathologists and residents at UNC SOD regarding the pathogenesis, complications of the condition, medical options and surgical treatment options for the patient, providing a learning experience for both Ugandan and American students thousands of miles apart.
The proposed clinic would act not only as a dental clinic but could be used by medical, nursing, optometry, women’s health, engineering, water access, or educational teams, to name a few options. This model is loosely based on UNC’s Malawi project that has been extremely successful. There will be housing for up to 32 people at any time that will be built alongside the clinic. A state of the art operating room outfitted with new equipment funded by a grant from the Polish government is already in use at the adjacent Medical Center and could be used by teams of surgeons at any time. The clinic will be built by local Ugandans, creating an opportunity for the local economy.
Dr. Farmer also says he is excited to see what the future holds for the project as it continues to grow. His inspiration, however, is from the students he teaches. “It is one of my greatest joys to have a group of students who are completely transformed in a matter of weeks. Those students are one of the main reasons I keep going back. You can see a change in each one of them in their time there. If I can just influence one student to do a humanitarian trip or do one good deed for someone in the future, I will have reached my purpose.”
In 2019, Dr. Farmer and former members of The Uganda Project and other leaders formed a 501(c)(3) organization called Universal Smiles. Dr. Farmer is the Chairman of the Board of Directors and original founding students (now dentists) Dr. Marc Weber is the Executive Director, Dr. Dan Hostrander is the Treasurer, and Dr. Katie Payne is the secretary. Other board members include Chris Gottfried and Dr. Rob Helfenbein.
Universal Smiles currently treats over 500 patients each year and educates and provides toothbrushes to at least 2,000 people each year. In the future, Dr. Farmer hopes that the clinic will provide continuous, comprehensive care to many more Ugandans. Until then, he continues along with the four students each year, trying to make a difference halfway around the world.
If you would like to donate to Universal Smiles, you may do so here. We appreciate any support, no matter how small.