by Heather Natola
I was fortunate to travel with Daphne Pariser (MS ’17), a PhD candidate in the Immunology, Microbiology and Virology program and founder of the nonprofit Humans for Education (H4E), to Kenya last August. It was my first trip to Africa, but not Daphne’s. In 2015, she founded H4E with David Kasura, a native Kenyan and a useful ally to have on the ground while Daphne works on her PhD in Rochester.
H4E began when Daphne and David connected, indirectly at first, on Daphne’s flight to Florida for a friend’s college graduation. Daphne struck up a conversation with a woman who talked about her trip to Kenya and her safari guide, David. She told Daphne about David’s efforts to install clean water filters in his son’s school. Inspired and eager to help, Daphne contacted David and together they managed not only to install filters in his son’s school, but to develop sponsorship programs, water storage containers, and filters for two additional schools as well.
Denisse Vega Ocasio (MS ’18) and I were the two URBEST trainees who joined Daphne on this recent H4E trip, along with two dentists she enlisted to provide preventive and emergency dental care at Destiny Shaper School. Denisse is a PhD candidate in the Translational Biomedical Science program and I am a recent PhD graduate from the Neuroscience department. Many people are confused when they hear that a neuroscientist went to Kenya to do dental work, but being a global citizen is important to me so I jumped at the chance to travel with an organization I believe is truly doing good. H4E is founded on the principle that education is the gateway to self-improvement and strives to decrease the barriers to a proper education by tackling health challenges.
Our dental clinic was a converted second grade class room, with hair salon chairs used as dental chairs. Denisse and I served as scribes, gophers, and tables—sorting, grabbing, and holding the trays of tools for the dentists while they managed to treat 250 students and community members. The number of patients doubled our goal of 125. We survived wasp attacks, learned a little bit of Swahili (open, bite, close, and spit), and surveyed the children on their diet, education, and aspirations. Many students shared their new dreams of becoming dentists.
We were only with the students at Destiny Shaper School for nine days, and while the dental care we provided undoubtedly improved their lives, the impact they had on us was just as great. The children and teachers were incredibly warm and openhearted, and we enjoyed their hospitality the entire trip. When we arrived, they performed two songs to welcome us to Kenya, and offered us traditional Maasai blankets and jewelry as thanks. When we left, we had lasting memories of a beautiful country and an amazing group of people. Due in part to the success of our trip, Daphne is planning a bigger venture for next July. For more information about Humans for Education and their 2019 dental trip, visit: humansforeducation.org/volunteerwithh4e