The time has come to hand over the project to our Kyrgyz friends. How will they do?

A whole year has passed since we said goodbye to our Kyrgyz colleagues. We left the Central Asian country with the words “this is your year, now you can show us what you’ve got and what you have learnt”. We are sat on the plane on the way to Osh and are looking forward to one last mission. We have the country and the people firmly in our hearts.

My thoughts wander back to the start of this adventure with the children with cleft lips. The chaos, empty cupboards, dentists’ lack of expertise, poor hygiene and much more sometimes brought us close to despair. We were sometimes overwhelmed by the culture and customs, while our friends would probably say the same about meeting us. In southern Kyrgyzstan, people still believe that women should be subservient to men.

The following incident remains vividly in my memory: after repeated requests not to reach into a drawer while wearing contaminated gloves, I saw Asamat again ignoring this rule. I pulled the drawer out of the cupboard, put down a box of sanitising wipes and told the dentist to clean all the instruments himself. The fact that I, as a woman, dared to make this unthinkable demand in front of everyone else came as a shock; you could see the amazement in people’s eyes as they froze, but there were also grins from the rest of the team. Silence. Asamat thought about what to do. All eyes were on him and how he would react. Then after what felt like an hour, he picked up the drawer and went to the back of the clinic, where he started cleaning the instruments.

Seven years of helping children with cleft lips Full of joy and a good amount of pride, we are introduced to the current patients. Marcel comments repeatedly on how good the results have been. Any difficult cases are discussed and considered carefully. Today, the clinic is spotless, which is perhaps not the case each and every day. Nevertheless, they obviously know what is expected of them. The orthodontists may not all work with our performance mentality, but that is not necessarily a problem. The dentist’s chairs work, they have ordered any equipment that is not available here in Kyrgyzstan from us in Switzerland, and they are proudly paying for it out of the clinic’s funds.

The only negative is that unfortunately, we still don’t have a speech therapist in the team. Apparently, this is not a priority for the surgeons, something that Marcel and I had to learn to accept. As a measure of their gratitude, they invite us to all sorts of events as usual. We speak in front of a dental training meeting and sense the motivated spirit of renewal in this wonderful country in the high mountains.