Our Story

Our Story

Thank you for visiting our website. We are Vicky and Nigel Milne, two Scottish dentists from the beautiful town of Dunoon where we run an NHS family dental practice, The Hollies. Our story started some years ago after a conversation between Nigel and John Challis of the Raven Trust. John was very keen to have us come out to Malawi to assess the dental needs, particularly in the north of the country where the Raven Trust runs many projects.

In September 2012 we dropped our youngest child off at university, packed our bags and set off for Malawi. The idea was to look at what dental services were available and see what other help might be needed – and how and if we could assist. After a life changing trip we returned to Scotland with the realisation that the dental services in Malawi were, and still are very poorly supported and that the Malawian Government has many other priorities for healthcare. We found that our colleagues in Malawi were battling against slim odds yet still resiliently carrying out dental treatment in incredibly difficult circumstances.

After some reflection, we decided to form Smileawi, initially as part of the Raven Trust but with the eventual plan to become a charity in our own right. In early 2016 Smileawi became a charity and was awarded the charity number SC046434 and so the story continues.

Since 2012 we have revisited Malawi every year and on each visit we have carried out pain clinics helping many thousands of people who otherwise would still be suffering. We have raised a lot of money through generous donations and as a result we have now bought enough equipment to run a eight chair portable clinic which we have taken out to many different rural areas. Our clinics are set up in classrooms, churches or existing clinics and through this we have removed thousands of painful teeth for many grateful patients. Over the years we have taken with us many self-funded volunteers; dentists, dental nurses and others from all walks of life who have had life changing experiences helping Smileawi with our work.Each year our volunteer groups get bigger and bigger and we are attracting not just dental professionals from Scotland but from England, Ireland and in 2019 we were joined by Brita Santing of the Netherlands who became our first ever international volunteer.
In June 2019 we were joined by a group of fourth year dental students, 5 from the University of Glasgow and one from the University of Dundee and with the help of the public health team from Glasgow University we carried out an oral health survey on around 2500 school children between the ages of 5 and 12 , we were very grateful to the Humble Co who donated enough eco friendly bamboo toothbrushes that each child who took part in the survey was given a toothbrush. We carried out an oral health presentation including tooth brushing instruction and with the help of a Mzuzu seamstress who fabricated specially designed toothbrush holders for each classroom the children from the 6 schools that took part now have a chance to brush their teeth at school each day. The data we collected is now in the hands of the University of Glasgow and we look forward to sharing the results when they are published.

We have brought together the existing dental professionals from Northern Malawi encouraging them with our help to work together to build a better service for their population. We hold an bi annual Smileawi conference in Mzuzu which gives the therapists an opportunity to meet up for a day of education and a chance to discuss their individual and common challenges. The conference has grown from strength to strength, we have had well renowned international speakers, representatives from other charities along with members of the Malawian government, medical officers and the Malawian dental association all contributing to making the conference a must for the Malawian dental professionals. We are grateful to Clyde Munroe dental group for sponsoring the September 2019 conference.

After a fact finding visit in May 2017 when we visited all the dental therapists at their places of work to investigate their circumstances we spent the following months travelling around Scotland and Northern England to collect good quality second hand dental chairs and equipments, in January 2018 we sent a shipping container full of these goods to Malawi and met it in Ekwendeni in May 2018 to oversee its emptying. With the expertise of Gerry Dolan a dental engineer working at that time for Wrights Cotrell Smileawi was able to provide 8 working dental chairs in 6 different locations, training for the staff to use and maintain the chairs and to vastly improve the working conditions in dental clinics involved.

In March 2017 Smileawi started funding Lusekero Kyumba to study dental therapy at the college of Health Sciences in Lilongwe. Lusekero is a native Malawian who was born in Karonga in 1983, one of seven siblings now married to Mary a nurse at David Gordon Memorial Hospital in Livingstonia with whom he has a daughter Lutengano meaning "Peace", Lusekero has moved almost 500km from home to study and when he gains his qualification he has promised to return to Livingstonia to work as a dental therapist in the hospital clinic. He has left his wife and daughter in Livingstonia and sees very little of them due to his study committments and the expense of travel. Everyone involved in Smileawi is very proud of Lusekero and we wish him every success. By January 2020 we have another 3 student therapists on our books who are all studying hard to gain good grades and keep up Smileawi standards.

In 2018 we were joined by Alan Stewart a recently retired mechanic and garage owner from Dunoon who came out to look at and repair hospital vehicles that belonged to the mission hospitals we were working from, he managed in a short time to return to service 5 vehicles and set up maintenance and service schedules for the local mechanics. As a result of this great success a branch of Smileawi called the Smileawi Spanners was created on his return and with the hard work of Alan and his crew of enthusiastic mechanics they have sent out a mobile workshop and secured a 3 year sponsorship from Arnold Clark meaning that they will be able to help put back on the road more vehicles which have been unusable for many many years. The effect of this work is invaluable and immeasurable and is already saving lives.

Smileawi has started to build good working relationships with other like minded charities and projects. Professor Jeremy Bagg, head of Glasgow University Dental school and lead in the Maldent project is responsible for bringing us together with Dentaid and Bridge 2 aid and we are looking forward to working with these wonderful organisations to meet our combined goals; there are exciting times ahead.

Smileawi helps Malawi one tooth at a time.


Latest News & Updates

27th Sep 2022

21 students being supported

Smileawi are now supporting 21 dental therapy students!! A huge problem in the College of Health Sciences and Malawi generally is that although students qualify for college entrance they cannot afford to pay their fees, accomodation and upkeep resulting in them dropping out of their courses....

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