Unilever employee Michelle Curran shares her life-changing experience in India educating villagers on oral care.
Michelle Curran, Knorr® Associate Brand Manager in the U.S., recently visited India to participate in a dental program for our international oral care brands Signal/Pepsodent® in partnership with Free The Children Dental program. She became a part of the initiative thanks to a Unilever program, and Michelle saw the change in action and participated in making a difference to the lives of local communities by spreading the Brush Day and Night message. Here is her story:
"Free the Children (FTC) is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that identifies communities in need through their Adopt a Village model. In 2013, FTC adopted a rural area in Northwest India and has implemented schools, healthcare programs, latrines and more. This year, Signal/Pepsodent® toothpaste made a donation and shared expertise with the NGO to set up Free The Children’s first-ever oral health camp.
Along with seven of my colleagues around the globe, I was fortunate enough to participate in the launch of the camp. From the moment I arrived in the village, I was welcomed into the community with a tilaka (red paint on the forehead), a necklace made of flowers and a chorus of “Namaste,” meaning “welcome” in Hindi. Moments later, we jumped headfirst into running the camp. With little experience in the language and in professional oral hygiene, it was intimidating at first.
I quickly found my calling at the education station, where I spent most of the four days doing education sessions to explain the harm in these practices, and the benefits of brushing correctly, twice a day. With the translation help of my Indian colleagues, I did about 20 brushing demonstrations and lessons per day. A little bit of Hindi got me a long way. The participants loved that the American could ask “Daant keese saaf kafte ho?” (How do you brush your teeth?). After my demos, we had children volunteer to brush in front of their peers to show the techniques they’d learned. They were so excited to show off their new skills, and even more excited to keep the toothbrush.
The camp was a whirlwind of activity. In just four days, we saw 1,500 people come through the camp. Some children were bussed in from local schools, while others walked miles to come. The existing perceptions and habits around oral hygiene were worlds apart from our own. Few people even owned a toothbrush or toothpaste. Instead, people were brushing their teeth with their fingers and ash or tobacco, something that was unimaginable to me before this trip. Heartbreakingly, children already had visible cavities in their baby teeth, and most people older than age 45 had already lost all their teeth. The need for education, daily oral hygiene and dental care was obvious. But even more obvious was the power of the camp to provide these services and empower the community to improve the quality of life.”
Stories like Michelle’s are a reminder of how big an impact one person’s small actions can have toward helping create a bright future for others. To learn more about Unilever programs around the world, read about the Unilever Foundation, and visit FreetheChildren.com for other volunteering opportunities.