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Project Smile: A young man’s mission to let his neighbourhood children smile confidently

A dentist screening a student’s teeth and gum in the oral hygiene awareness program. Photo: Rishav Das

While growing up in the Kanchanrup municipality in the Saptari district of Southeastern Nepal, Rishav Das never realised why his teeth looked better than the kids in his neighbourhood. In fact, he did not notice that as he belonged to a well-off family in the community and he did not interact much with neighbouring kids.

In 2018, Das, as a biotechnology undergraduate studying in Kathmandu, went to his village in Saptari on Dashain vacation. Then, he saw some children playing beside his house and joined them to enjoy the company. While playing, all of them laughed together and at that moment, he happened to notice the stains on the children’s teeth.

“I found they had a very bad condition of oral hygiene and were not acquainted with oral or dental hygiene awareness,” Das says, adding he, then, felt dental hygiene awareness was needed there.

Das, as a young man with passion and persistence, then thought about what he could do to address the issue. In the meantime, he got involved in Peace First, an organisation working for “creating a peaceful world that gives a platform to young changemakers aged 13-24 years.”

He, then, utilised that platform to make a change in his community. And, today, via an initiative called Project Smile that he launched with a small grant of USD 250, he has achieved that transformation in his community. Now, the young man is expanding his campaign into other places also.

Changing community

At Peace First, Das was asked to bring a project proposal in order to solve any problem happening around. “I then created the Project Smile feeling the utmost need to address the problem of oral and dental diseases in and around my locality and presented it,” he says.

Oral hygiene awareness program under ‘Project Smile’ at a school. Photo: Rishav Das

He explains the Project Smile is a programme dedicated to oral hygiene awareness within vulnerable communities, majorly targeting Terai regions and remote parts of Nepal where oral and dental health is neglected.

Before launching the project, Das identified the causes. Chewing betel quid and smokeless tobacco is a common scene in the Terai region. Also, there is nominal access to oral health education, rendering itself more vulnerable to oral disease, shares Das.

After presenting the project to the organisation, he got the mini-grant. From the grant, he first conducted an oral hygiene awareness programme on September 25, 2019, at a government school in his home district.

The programme focused on giving them tips about brushing and cleaning their teeth and supplying them with products and tutorials to help them learn to do it themselves. He shares, “We focused on behavioural changes then and the impact is quite visible now. And, after the programme, Project Smile was spotlighted on Peace First’s website.”

Taking it beyond

Das, who wanted to scale up and expand this project to more communities, was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, he got one more opportunity to give continuity to his work. 

Das says, “I again applied for the grant in Global Changemakers with the same project and won it. This time, I selected ten local leaders from different districts including Bara, Parsa, Mohatari, Doti, Salyan, Dhanusa and more to support this project.”

This time around, Das along with local leaders Sabina Poudel, Sumitra Aryal, Badal Gupta, Renu Sah, Anjali Gupta conducted an oral hygiene campaign at a local school in Birgunj, on October 1, 2021,  on the occasion of World Smile Day.

Project leader Rishav Das along with students. Photo: Rishav Das

“We conducted different sessions on oral hygiene incorporating matters like negative effects of tobacco consumption, nutrition for oral health, types of toothpaste to be used, tips of brushing among others. We also did screening for students, teachers with the help of two dental surgeons Dr Puskar Tiwari and Dr Mamta Mishra.”

Locals were happy with the initiative. Renu Sah, a local leader from Birgunj, says, “If only somebody had conducted similar programmes when we were in schools, we would have been more conscious about oral and dental health and hygiene. I joined this project considering the same thing.”

In the programme, the students were divided into four groups and asked to note down the things they learned from the program and present them, says Das.

Sah also says, “We will also be collecting feedback and assessing impacts soon.”

“We are looking forward to conducting this project in different districts of Nepal where oral hygiene is poor and ensuring all have strong and healthy teeth and bright smiles– no matter where they live in.”

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Budhathoki is a correspondent at Onlinekhabar.

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