Monday, November 5, 2007

Afghanistan dental project hits bumpy road


A little over a year ago, local dentist James Rolfe shipped enough supplies and equipment to Kabul, Afghanistan, to set up a dental clinic, school and volunteer care center.
But after he went to Afghanistan to receive the shipment and start putting together the project, he ran into some unexpected issues.

“I found that the people who were supposedly helping me were trying to steal the shipment,” Rolfe said. “I was really desperate to make this project happen, so I forged some documents and shipped the whole thing back to the United States.”
After lining up another property and spending three months wrangling with the Afghan government, he finally managed to ship the supplies back with the support of the Kabul Rotary Club.
“Because I had so many delays, I have lost most of the volunteers to help set it up,” he said. “I’ve really spent myself into a hole.”
With 120,000 pounds of equipment, Rolfe estimates it will take a team of 10 volunteers about a month to unload it, sort it all out and construct the prefabricated clinic, lab and school. He plans to leave for Afghanistan on Sunday and is calling for volunteers or monetary donations to support the project.
Rolfe initiated the Afghanistan Dental Relief Project in 2003 to provide basic dental care and train dentists and assistants in a city that has no running water or electricity and boasts an average life span of 43 years.
“The people of Afghanistan were basically abandoned by the United States after they defeated the Soviet Union,” Rolfe said. “…I feel like I have to be an example of what people should do. The power rests with each individual person.”
With 20 complete dental rooms — consisting of x-ray machines, drills, dental chairs and supplies — Rolfe envisions a center that offers free care including x-rays, fillings, cleanings and extractions to Afghan citizens while training orphans, widows and handicapped people in dental work.
“These are the people who are really at the bottom of the pile,” Rolfe said. “They really don’t have a chance, because they don’t have any family, they don’t have any skills.”
To cover the costs of offering free dental care, the center will charge for complicated procedures and care for those who aren’t citizens, such as embassy personnel and foreign diplomats. Rates will run about the same as those charged in Dubai, he said, the nearest city that offers a modern dental clinic.
Rolfe plans to stay in Kabul for a month as the project takes form before returning to the United States, leaving the dental center in the hands of project managers. He estimates the minimal cost of the setup effort alone to top $50,000, not to mention the shipping and storage expenses.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have come out of his own pocket to keep the project moving forward.
“Afghanistan is not the top priority for many people,” Rolfe said, “but the more chaotic and troublesome it gets over there, the more I feel like going.”
Tax-deductible donations can be made to the nonprofit organization at, where details on volunteering can also be found. For more information, visit the website or call 963-2329.

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