Dental Marathon to take on Mount Kilimanjaro for free oral healthcare

The Dental Marathon team will set off in June to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The goal is to help get free oral healthcare and education to African children.

thobile mushwana dental marathon
Play Your Part ambassador Thobile Mushwana wants to change the narrative that there are more smart phones than toothbrushes in Africa. He is the founder of the Dental Marathon. (Images: Dental Marathon, Facebook)

Melissa Javan
Play Your Part ambassador Thobile Mushwana says he has always had the desire to make a long-term impact on society that will leave a lasting legacy. The founder of the Dental Marathon makes sure that all schoolchildren in the Free State learn about oral health.

The Dental Marathon team gives lessons in oral health to schoolchildren; each child in the more than 800 schools also gets a free dental pack that includes a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Play Your Part ambassadors promote active citizenship to help overcome South Africa’s challenges.

“There are painful stories. It baffles me when I hear that an eight- or nine-year-old has never brushed their teeth,” says Mushwana, who comes from Limpopo. He’s been living in Bloemfontein for eight years. “There is a lot to be done, not just in South Africa but throughout Africa.”

To make sure more children get free oral healthcare and education, the Dental Marathon plans to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in June 2017.

school dental marathon
More than 180,000 schoolchildren benefit from the Dental Marathon initiative in Bloemfontein.

Mushwana is the founder and chief executive officer of the Dental Marathon. He says he wants to change the narrative that there are more smart phones than toothbrushes in Africa.

This is why the Dental Marathon is establishing a global footprint. To build awareness, Mushwana recorded videos of people all over the world saying they supported the Dental Marathon. He started this #50Different campaign during a visit in Europe.

In the videos, people first introduce themselves in their native language; each ends their video saying they support the Dental Marathon. In his video, Mushwana spoke in his native language, Xitsonga. He said: “Avuxeni, vito ra mina hi mina Thobile Mushwana. Ni huma Africa-dzonga ni seketela Dental Marathon.” (In English this means “hi, I’m Thobile Mushwana from South Africa and I support the Dental Marathon.”)

The videos are uploaded onto the group’s Facebook page.
Watch #50Different campaign videos:

How the Dental Marathon works

Once a week the Dental Marathon team visits a school in Bloemfontein, explains Mushwana. “During the week we do an analysis of the needs of the school we are going to on that particular Friday.”

The programme runs throughout the year. On the school visits, the team teaches the children what healthy foods you should eat, how to keep your teeth clean and how to floss.

Thereafter, the children leave their toothbrushes at school. In the morning before class starts, the teachers make sure they brush their teeth.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Mushwana says the team will leave Johannesburg for Tanzania on 3 June 2017. He and others will climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, to raise funds.

Kili, as it is affectionately known, rises about 4,900 metres from its base to 5,895 metres above sea level.

The group aims to raise R10-million to build a Dental Marathon House in Bloemfontein.

“Before we leave for Tanzania, we will have a press conference to show what the Dental Marathon House will look like,” says Mushwana.

The Dental Marathon House

At the Dental Marathon House, children will get free oral healthcare and education, such as free check-ups, explains Mushwana.

“We are going to open a head office in Johannesburg. The Dental Marathon House will be established in Bloemfontein.”

In addition, the group plans to set up two mobile clinics that will travel throughout South Africa. “We will set up the first mobile clinic with a truck, which will have two dental chairs at the back.”

One such mobile clinic will cost R2.2-million.

Setting up a global footprint

Following the Dental Marathon House in Bloemfontein, the organisation wants to establish a Dental Marathon House in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. Once these are complete, the Dental Marathon team has their eye on building houses across the continent.

Anyone can partner with the organisation. “We’re not looking for hand outs. We’re looking for a hand to partner with,” says Mushwana. “This brand will continue to grow.”

Mushwana says Africa needs more problem solvers. “Most challenges are going to be solved by young people… Within each of us we have the solutions.”

The Dental Marathon team consists of an executive board and volunteers. “The young people who serve as volunteers learn things such as how to serve and also to build relationships.”

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