Photo showing a tin-roofed salon on a flooded street in Nairobi

CDM Students Work at Kenyan Clinic, Document Conditions

Striking Photos Highlight Poverty; Earn Awards for CDM Students

October 2, 2018

Dental students Juliana Lim and Roger Chu, both Class of 2021, placed first and second in a photo essay contest last month, presented by Columbia's Program in Population and Global Health. Their photos documented extreme poverty in Nairobi, Kenya, seen while the students were in Nairobi offering oral health training at a local clinic. Chu and Lim worked for eight weeks under the mentorship of Kavita Ahluwalia, DDS, MPH, Associate Professor of Dental Medicine (Community Health) at CUIMC, and Millicent Ooko of Kenya.

Describing what they saw, Roger Chu wrote about what an effect seeing the slums had on him.

Photo showing a tin-roofed salon on a flooded street in Nairobi
This photo showing a tin-roofed salon on a flooded street in Nairobi is by Juliana Lim

"The deeper we walked into Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa, the deeper my heart sunk," wrote Chu in a statement accompanying his photo. "Until today, it is difficult for me to process what I saw." 

Informal settlements flooded with pungent sewer water were heartbreaking to the students, all the more so because of how accustomed residents seemed to the conditions, which recur each year. In Lim's photo, a makeshift bridge crosses a pool of brown water from the street to a hair salon, allowing the salon to continue business despite the flooding. 

Chu and Lim's photos bear witness to poverty, but their primary work in Nairobi was to help mitigate its health effects. 

Along with an undergraduate student they mentored, Chu and Lim spent eight weeks of the summer working at Nyumbani, a clinic serving children and families living with HIV in Nairobi slums. The team developed and offered training in oral health to nurses, nutritionists, and social workers, helping fill in the gap left by the lack of dentists.

In addition, Chu, Lim, (and a third student named Adam Ellenthal, who had been working on a similar project in Uganda) joined a site visit to Kenya's Ministry of Health, the Kenya Medical Training College, and the University of Nairobi. They also attended a one-day workshop at the Columbia Global Centers | Nairobi. During the workshop, Kenyan oral health stakeholders discussed policy and training needs to address to address oral health needs in their country, where the ratio of dentist to population is a staggering 1:42,000, according to the country's 2015 National Health Survey Report. 

Their trip was sponsored by the the Program in Population and Global Health and CDM's Office of Student Affairs. 




The students' full statements about their work is below.

The deeper we walked into Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa, the deeper my heart sunk. Till today, it is difficult for me to process what I saw. As our guide swiftly led us to the family who we were assigned to do a home visit, I was overwhelmed by the foul odor from the sewer water all around us. Our guide and everyone else, however, didn’t seem to notice it. “Am I the only person noticing that we are literally walking on a ditch?”, I thought to myself. For the thousands of Kenyans living in Kibera, rubbish and refuse around homes all seem too insignificant in comparison to the problems of unemployment, crimes, AIDS, and lack of access to basic cares such as clean water and electricity.

- Roger Chu, second place winner


In Kangemi – one of the large urban slums in Kenya, heavy rains have left a mark of destruction on thousands of homes and businesses. Kenya’s informal settlements, or slums, bear the brunt of flood effects every rainy season because of inadequate infrastructure. Residents of Kangemi live in tin shacks and are vulnerable to floods that threaten to destroy their homes because of the slum’s poor drainage system that fails to cope with excess water. Unclean waters stay stagnant in the streets, and businesses are often brought to a standstill during the rainy season. The floods may have battered the slum of Kangemi, but daily life doesn’t stop for its residents. Despite a deep pool of dirty water blocking its entrance, the Kinyozi Hair & Beauty Salon has found a creative solution to stay open for business in the aftermath of flooding season: a makeshift wooden bridge allows customers to safely cross the murky water. The salon, offering haircuts on the other side of the temporary bridge, stands as a symbol of beauty and strength in unfortunate circumstances.

- Juliana Lim, first place winner 


Campus News, Dentistry, Public Health, Global Health