CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti –– On the highway westbound of Djibouti City there is a small town filled with bright colors, rich culture and community known as We’a. As the people go about their daily lives, the young children immediately standout. They play, they laugh and they can’t seem to stop smiling.
Those precious smiles are exactly what U.S. Army Soldiers with Civil Affairs Functional Specialty Team, Southern European Task Force – Africa are trying to protect.
On Aug. 11, 2021, U.S. Army Sgt. Stovall Volanta, a dental hygienist with the functional specialty team, and her team partnered with teachers with the Association des Femmes de We’a to conduct an oral hygiene class for Djiboutian schoolchildren.
“I’m a big advocate for oral health,” Volanta said. “I love engaging with children who can start their dental care at a young age and gain the knowledge to avoid oral diseases throughout their lives.”
Ten schoolchildren ranging in age from 4 to 6 years old, and several teachers from the Association des Femmes de We’a, attended the class. They learned how oral health is often the first indicator of a person’s overall health, what foods are good and bad for oral hygiene and how to brush teeth effectively.
Volanta used a model of giant teeth to give each child an opportunity to practice brushing. The kids laughed as they watched each of their classmates take their turn to brush the giant teeth. One young boy, in particular, gripped a toothbrush and furrowed his brow as he focused on brushing the teeth more intensely than all the other students. Everyone in the room cheered him on as he gave his best effort.
Volanta said providing empowering dental education to the community gives her a sense of fulfillment.
“Living in Djibouti for the last 10 months, I truly love how Djiboutians are so nice and their smiles are bright and contagious,” Volanta said. “They have given me the best experience and have shown me a great deal of hospitality while working together and learning each other’s cultures.”
Both the Soldiers and the class participants left the class with smiles on their faces, but, ultimately, the goal of the class was to establish and reinforce proper dental health care, both informing children on how to prevent oral decay and equipping teachers with further knowledge.
“We are really grateful for the visit,” said Aizha Radwan Farah, a schoolteacher with the Association des Femmes de We’a. “As we learn, we become even more interested to learn more and are excited to teach others in the community.” The class is part of the Department of Defense’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) initiative, which aims to promote the safety, equality and meaningful contributions of women around the world, and positively affect local community organizations while enriching foreign relationships.
“Together, building our partnership establishes a strong foundation to continue the goals of Association des Femmes de We’a and similar organizations,” Volanta said. “WPS initiatives help strengthen Civil Affairs efforts among women organizations in Djibouti, and provide a blueprint in East Africa.”