Pulling Teeth in a Mongolian ger
In September KarmaQuest returned to Western Mongolia to provide medical and dental care to 170 nomadic families living in the remote Altai Mountains close to the Chinese and Russian borders. In partnership with Health and Hope Foundation (HHF), the team traveled on wash-board roads and horseback to operate mobile health clinics in the herders’ autumn pasturelands at 8,000 ft.
For Dr. Loree Bolin, HHF Founder, with a group of six American dental, medical and logistical volunteers and Mongolian staff, improvising to local conditions in remote areas is nothing new. "We created a 'dental chair' by propping the front seat of our van on top of the spare tire." They regularly set up in Tanzanian villages and in 2012 treated hundreds at Virtues Children Nepal/Paropakar Orphanage in Kathmandu, where KarmaQuest's Wendy Lama serves as Board Secretary.
At the two clinic sites, the team treated 76 dental patients performing 70 tooth extractions, the preferred treatment where electricity for fillings and follow-up is not available. They distributed 250 toothbrushes and instructed teachers and students in dental hygiene at a village public school, and to every clinic patient.
A diet heavy in fatty milk products and dried or salted meat, with few vegetables and fruits, is blamed for most of the nomads’ health issues, including hypertension, constipation, urinary tract infection, gallbladder and kidney diseases. The bright and dry air of the high Mongolian steppe is hard on the eyes as well: among the 160 who had vision issues, 72 received corrective eyeglasses and 145 sunglasses.
The team also distributed washable, re-usable cotton menstrual kits to over 150 women and girls. The kits were hand-sewn by volunteers with Days for Girls (DFG), HHF, and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Half Moon Bay, where KarmaQuest is located.
“The (kits) are really cute bags, and the materials are so bright and colorful, soft and comfortable to the skin… The water-resistant mini pouch is very useful at school … and the protective shield is really helpful” said one elated recipient.
Not only are store bought menstrual products hard to get in many rural parts of the world, but they are expensive and not easily disposable. These kits can be used for several years.
Testing of drinking water sources revealed unsafe water in all but one site. The team instructed tribal leaders in water testing and to boil water that is unsafe whenever possible.
The herding communities -- including a woman shaman who is normally the only source of healing available -- were so appreciative of the visiting medics that they organized a customary naadam sports competition patterned after the national games performed in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbataar each summer. The locals challenged each other as well as our group’s spirited drivers and staff to wrestling, archery, and horse racing competitions. A throat singer demonstrated his uncommon skills.
"The performance of the throat singer outdoors with the (mountain) backdrop brought me to tears, and when the local families started singing along, I was floored." Warren Haack, Film maker, 2019 and 2022 KarmaQuest Mongolia trip member.
The trip concluded with the Golden Eagle Festival where trip members cheered on the eagle hunters who had given them a private demonstration the day before. Our own guide Tebo challenged and won a goat carcass tug-of-war on horseback.
Please watch our Menu of Trips page for more trips to Mongolia and elsewhere that combine cultural immersion with give-back humanitarian and conservation actions.