Sometimes, it takes one motivated person and a great idea to achieve superlative results. Ron Knevel, RDH, is such a person. Ron began his journey into these uncharted territories at the International Symposium on Dental Hygiene (ISDH) in 2001 in Sydney, Australia. He presented a lecture and a workshop about internationalizing the dental hygiene curriculum, and the benefits, challenges, and opportunities that internationalization (with and without mobility) would offer to students.
The work at this conference built the foundation to develop an international network of cooperating dental hygiene schools and faculty members to improve and facilitate cooperation and exchange of information. In 2004, the first International Week was held in Europe, which four dental hygiene schools organized for a week in April. During this week, teachers from the participating schools were exchanged, and faculty members were involved in guest lectures and clinical teaching at the partner schools.
The International Week proved to be a huge success and the number of participating schools became larger and attracted attention from overseas partners. Soon schools from the United States, Canada, and Australia joined the network. The effect of the International Week on the mobility of students was significant. The number of exchange students between the participating schools increased, and teacher mobility increased as well.
Those participating in the International Week were inspired and motivated to stay involved. It developed into an annual international event with significant numbers of faculty members participating each year. The theme of the International Week was different each year, and students had the opportunity to participate in the activities.
In 2008, the fifth anniversary of International Week was hosted in Amsterdam, which marked a milestone in the history of the event. There were a record number of participants, with an exceptional closing symposium and ceremony. The teachers who participated in the International Week used the time for networking and opening new avenues of communication and cooperation. The network became bigger as the relationship between the participating schools and faculty members became closer. This international network proved to be an excellent tool for connecting dental hygiene schools and faculty members globally.
As a result of this joint effort, several collaborative Internet projects are in progress. One project was developed by Mark Gussy (Melbourne), Viveca Sigurdson/Gunn Karlberg (Karlstad) and Ron. Another project was initiated by Görel Muller (Falun), titled "Oral Health in an International Perspective/International Oral Health."
In 2009, Ron organized his last International Week in Amsterdam, where he was joined by five faculty members from Japan. He has since moved to Australia, where he accepted a position as a senior lecturer and third-year coordinator at the School of Dentistry and Oral Health of La Trobe University in Bendigo.
Ron is Chair of the Buddhi Bangara Foundation (www.buddhibangara.org) in Nepal. Buddhi bangara means wisdom teeth! He was involved in the development of the dental hygiene curriculum in Nepal and served as a curriculum adviser. He educated and trained dental hygienists and assistants to become dental hygiene instructors/educators. One of the difficulties he experienced was that people in Nepal do not stay in the same job for any length of time. Many move on, especially after having received training and are able to use it as a reference to work elsewhere.
Ron has visited Nepal for the past six years, and spends approximately four to six weeks per year in Kathmandu, training the educators, developing a more structured curriculum, and supporting the professionalization of dental hygiene in Nepal. Progress has been quite good, as the Nepalese are able to train their own educators and the dental hygiene school has a strong emphasis on oral health promotion.
Part of the tasks involved a research project to demonstrate the effectiveness of individual oral health promotion activities on the oral health awareness of children in public and private schools, a monastery, and a care facility for mentally and physically challenged children. This was combined with parent meetings and teachers training.
The project always involved Nepali students to ensure they would be able to continue the activities and programs independently after the project was completed.
Ron's group also trained rural women from very remote villages to become oral health advocates in their villages. They were taught to recognize basic oral health problems and to instruct the villagers about proper oral hygiene techniques and the effectiveness of fluoride toothpaste. The rural women were very dedicated in their efforts and helped many children and adults in remote areas. The impact of their activities is yet to be determined, but the increase in their self-esteem was significant!
In 2010, an oral health promotion training center in Dhangadi was established in a remote region of Western Nepal. In this center, a Nepalese dental hygienist will work to provide training to teachers, rural women, and health workers about oral health, prevention, fluoride, and systemic health. The dental hygienist will also visit schools in several districts and perform dental checkups, use questionnaires to determine oral health knowledge and awareness, and will provide individual instruction to the children. The dental hygienist will also organize parents' meetings and teachers' training. Each school, child, and activity will be repeated once a year for the next three years as a funded project. Two free dental camps will also be organized each year for emergency care; however, the focus will always be prevention.
In 2011, a group of international dental hygiene educators will join a six-day symposium in Kathmandu, organized by Ron in cooperation with his Nepalese colleagues. The participants will be familiarized with the dental hygiene program in Nepal and the Buddhi Bangara project, and will participate in two dental camps. The main goal of the week is to support the recognition of the dental hygiene profession in Nepal and to support the oral health promotion activities of the Buddhi Bangara Foundation. The maximum amount of participants has been reached and the event will be joined by participants from Sweden, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Portugal, the Netherlands, Finland, and the United States. I will be joining the group as a representative of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.
The international network has evolved and the International Week might evolve into a newer and changed concept. Ron would like to keep the network together and is exploring new options for expanding and continuing the cooperation. At the ISDH in July 2010 in Glasgow, the proposed special interest group (SIG) on education was initiated by Ron, and the first meeting was attended by approximately 68 interested faculty and other members. The minutes of the meeting will be forwarded to all participants in the next weeks and a follow-up plan is underway.
One person, a good idea, collaboration, and the help of others can result in fantastic riches. For more information about the IFDH or SIGs, please visit www.ifdh.org.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, BA, MS, is president of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists. She is also a 2003 winner of the Pfizer/ADHA Award for Excellence in Dental Hygiene. Maria is visiting faculty at the University of Rome for the Interdisciplinary Master's Degree Program in Advanced Technologies in the Sciences of Oral Hygiene, and at the University of Pisa. She is also a member of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR).