Bridge2aid – surviving the challenges of COVID-19

bridge2aidShaenna Loughnane shares with Dentistry Online the challenges the charity has faced in 2020 and how the team has adapted to survive into 2021 and beyond.

How has COVID-19 affected Bridge2aid?

Like many charities, all of our community fundraising stopped overnight as the pandemic forced people to cancel events, etc.

Most of our corporate funding was also put on hold as charity giving, understandably, is the first thing to go and the last to come back when people are facing financial challenges.

There was also a general trend towards giving to regional charities to support local communities, rather than giving internationally. Again, that is completely understandable

We furloughed the majority of the team to save costs. And we cancelled five programmes in 2020, meaning that 35 rural health workers didn’t receive training. They would have given access to around 350,000 people for emergency dental care. Those people now have nowhere to go when they experience dental pain. We also had to cancel our pilot programme in Malawi.

Our volunteers have either rolled their places onto our 2021 programmes (from July onwards) or received a full refund.

How have you adapted to these challenges?

It is only small charities that can adapt and change and find innovative solutions to these problems that will survive. According to BOND, an organisation that connects, strengthens and champions a dynamic network of civil society organisations to eradicate global poverty, inequality and injustice, 43% of small international charities won’t survive the next two years.

We made the decision that we owed it to the communities we serve in East Africa and to our amazing donors, supporters and volunteers to survive this crisis. And not roll into a ball hoping it would pass! To do that, we came up with four initial projects.

Firstly, we want to take the time to grow, improve and network. We ran a virtual conference to enable us to hear what others in the field were doing. And also see if there were any partnership opportunities to allow us to reach more people in pain. It will help us to improve our programmes and we are talking to a couple of new organisations about partnership opportunities. It is only by working together and sharing learning that we will survive.

Secondly, we are working with Prodental CPD to create an e-learning platform for the clinical officers we have already trained in Tanzania. Over the past 16 years, we have trained 592 rural health workers. This will refresh their skills and update them. It will ensure as many as possible of those who have training are still getting people in their communities out of pain. This will then become an integral part of our programmes in the future.

Third on the list was looking at opportunities to create some kind of digital platform. This way we can give peer support to rural health workers we train in the future. Very often they are working in isolation. Some are responsible for upwards of 250,000 people, on their own. We want them to feel part of the global dental community and get the support they need.

Lastly – for now – we are working with Smileawi (which facilitates groups of self-funded UK volunteers to travel to Malawi and carry out free pain clinics for the rural population), Prodental and The Dental Association of Malawi to build a virtual training course for dental therapists in Malawi. This will give them the skills to teach dental prevention messages within rural communities

What’s next for Bridge2aid?

We are hopeful and positive that the effort we put in now will both strengthen the work we have already carried out and improve our programmes into the future.

We are looking forward to welcoming our amazing volunteers back out to East Africa to work with us when it is safe to do so. But I feel we have utilised this time to adapt, grow and improve.

So all was not lost in 2020!

Between 1 and 8 December, Bridge2aid is running a match-funding appeal to raise money for its digital training projects. For every £1 donated, the charity has generous donors that will match it pound for pound. The hope is that the charity can raise £4,000.

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