Echo readers can Strip Off For Smiles thanks to a new campaign to help children in Morocco.
Alison Goulding found out how you can help bring a smile to their faces.
IF you’re looking for a new home for your old SAFC strip, then look no further than the new Echo campaign Strip Off for Smiles.
Olivers Dental Studio and SAFC have joined forces with the Echo to collect as many old strips as possible.
The famous red and white stripes will then be flown to Morocco by Sunderland dentist Michael Oliver in his third visit to a fishing village in the region of El Jebah to perform essential dentistry for free.
Michael is one of the founding members of the Dental Mavericks, who travel to Morocco every year to help children with no day-to-day access to dentists.
The team spend an intensive few days doing non-stop dentistry to relieve the suffering of children with abscesses, rotting teeth and gum infections.
As well as treating the villagers, Michael also takes over old Sunderland shirts as a gift.
He said: “We took 150 Sunderland shirts out last year and I felt like the Pied Piper. Families came streaming our of their houses and the Mayor even turned up for a shirt. The goodwill it generates is fantastic and the children know all about the Premiere League teams.
“Anyone who could see the smile on their face when they get a shirt would want to donate one.
“We also take over little toys and teach them about dental health. A pencil over there is like a Gameboy over here.”
All of the fund-raising done by the Dental Mavericks is spent on equipment for the trip, since all volunteers pay their own travel costs to Morocco.
The team leave on September 21 for the village in El Jebah. There are no resident dentists in the village and pain relief is non-existent.
Four dentists, including Michael, started the charity in 2010.
He said: “The first year we were treating children in school classrooms, last year we were given a little health facility and this year, with the money we’ve raised, we’ve bought some portable and solar-powered dental chairs. It’s gradually becoming a better environment for the children to be treated in.
“The first two years we mainly did extractions, removing rotten teeth. If you’re working without drills you can’t restore teeth because you can’t put a filling on top of the decay. But this year, with the solar-powered chairs, we will be able to save more of their teeth which is much better than just taking them out. It was really frustrating to see the same kids the second year and take even more teeth out so this is a real improvement.”
Eleven dentists will travel out this year with a wider support team that brings the total team to 20.
SAFC has backed the campaign by donating a team’s worth of SAFC Invest in Africa Adidas strips to the campaign.
SAFC commercial director Gary Hutchinson said: “We’re really excited to see how many different variations of the strip we can collect and we hope our supporters will dig deep for this cause. Anyone who’s buying or has bought our new strip can now donate their old strip to a really good cause.
“The club is doing a lot of work in Africa and we fully support the values of this trip.”
The Strip Off for Smiles campaign is also hoping to attract the support of local businesses collecting shirts from staff.
Gary, who is also chairman of the Sunderland Area North East Chamber of Commerce, added: “Speaking as chairman I would say this is a fantastic example of a Sunderland business showing how we do things in Sunderland. Olivers is putting its effort into helping a disadvantaged part of the world and showing how we can be different and work in partnership on Wearside.”
This year Olivers Dental Studio, founded by Michael Oliver more than 20 years ago, will pay £300 in freight costs to have all donated shirts shipped across to North Africa.
Michael added: “It’s great that the football club has put its shoulder behind it. It has big links with Africa and this fits in very nicely.
“The first time we went I took a shirt for the Belgium ambassador who helped us overcome certification issues and enabled us to get into Morocco and do our job.
“The people in Morocco are lovely and very obliging.
“A child coming to the dentist in Britain may be apprehensive but in Morocco they come up to you and show you which tooth is hurting them. They have no pain relief there so they want help and may have been in pain for a long time. They come up and give you a cuddle the day after they’ve been treated.”
Michael, who is a keen photographer, captures the experience and culture on camera on each visit.
He said: “It’s a beautiful country full of beautiful people and it feels good to be able to go out and do my job without mountains of paperwork and contracts. It’s purely helping people.
“I would like to see Dental Mavericks grow year on year and expand into other countries.
“We are also working on changing attitudes and educating the villagers to care for their teeth so there is less need to do all these extractions.
“For next year we are raising money for an ambulance that we can take up into the hills so we can treat children who live too far away to walk to us.”
Echo editor Rob Lawson said: “I’m delighted to throw the Echo’s weight behind such a worthwhile cause and I applaud Michael Oliver for his initiative and dedication to helping so many needy children.
“I’m grateful to the football club for its generosity in donating shirts, I hope other businesses across Wearside and East Durham can follow its lead.
“I also hope that readers will take this cause to their hearts and dig out old strips which aren’t being used.
“A simple gift could mean so much to young people who have so little.”
l To donate or find out more, visit www.dentalmavericks.org or www.oliverdental.com
You can bring your old Sunderland shirts to reception in Echo House, Pennywell.