UK adventures for a Malawian dental therapist – a dream visit realised.

Guest blog written by Lisa Taylor and Edward Hara

The MalDent Project has drawn together many people since its inception.  Below is a brief overview of the web of connections which brought about this exciting visit to the UK for Edward Hara, a very hard working dental therapist, now based in Chitipa, in the north of Malawi.

  • Lisa undertook an MSc with Jeremy Bagg in his Cardiff days (1983-1991).
  • Lisa also spent two years in St John’s Hospital, Mzuzu, Malawi as a VSO volunteer from 1992 to 1994 where she met Edward.
  • Jeremy has been instrumental in setting up the MalDent Project and has met Edward Hara on several occasions.
  • Edward and Jeremy are friends of Nigel and Vicky Milne, who founded Smileawi, a Scottish charity which operates in the North of Malawi and has worked closely with the MalDent Project.

Lisa always hoped to be able to bring one of her Malawian colleagues to the UK for a visit and given Edward’s many friends in the UK, a plan was made for him to visit both Scotland and England.  Smileawi hosts an annual fundraising Ceilidh in October and Lisa is involved with the annual British Dental Association Community Dental Service Conference and so this was chosen as the time for his visit. 

The initial hurdle to overcome was getting a passport and a visa.  This necessitated letters of invitation and support and brought with it a lot of stress and visits to Lilongwe for Edward.  Finally, the documents were all sorted which brought relief all round.  The excitement really began when he received his tickets. 

Edward would very much like to share with you his photo diary and thoughts about his visit:  

27.9.22.  I was supported by my family to get to the airport in good time – I arrived 4 hours ahead of time, I really did not want to miss this plane!

I boarded the Ethiopian Airlines flight – the trip was really on!  The flight was smooth with a touchdown in The Congo and a stopover in Addis Ababa.

28.9.22.  I finally arrived in Heathrow early the next day.  Lisa met me at the airport and drove me home on a sunny autumnal morning.

29.9.22.  After a relaxing first day we visited the Abbey Ruins in Reading and looked round Lisa’s home town by the Thames:

30.9.22.  On the Friday, we headed off towards The North and spent a lovely evening with Chris’s mum, Teresa, in Gateshead.  Chris, Lisa’s husband, had spent 3 years as a VSO in Lilongwe training laboratory technicians, and Teresa and Chris’s late dad Bob, had visited him in Malawi.  It was lovely to meet Teresa who was pleased to see us and to chat about her time in Malawi.

1.10.22.  The next day we started up to Scotland.  En route we visited The Angel of the North, and I found it hard to imagine how this huge structure could stay upright.

We then visited Hexham and went for a look round the Abbey, which was beautiful.  It was the first time I had seen a tomb within a church; it also seemed strange that they had a café in a church.  We looked round the town and my love of charity shops began.

Inside Hexham Abbey

We travelled on to Dunoon passing some beautiful English and Scottish countryside en route.  I did not like the idea of the ferry crossing as I cannot swim.  However, it was a very steady trip over and we arrived safely on the other side.

On board the ferry from Gourock to Dunoon

We easily found the Milne’s home and received a warm welcome.  A large group was gathered and we all ate a lovely meal together before heading off to the Ceilidh by coach.  The Ceilidh was great fun and I threw myself into this famous dance!

With Nigel Milne and Annibale Coia before the ceilidh

2.10.22.  Lisa and Chris headed back home the following day and my Scottish adventure began.  Thank you to Nigel and Vicky’s friend, John Challis, for taking me to the church service today and for his company after the service.

3.10.22.  An interesting visit to the David Livingstone Museum, just outside Glasgow, accompanied by good friends. 

With Nigel, Vicky and Jeremy at the David Livingstone Museum in Blantyre

I felt lucky to see the beautiful Loch Lomond:

4.10.22. I enjoyed looking around the University of Glasgow campus.

Inside the University of Glasgow Chapel

I also had an informative visit to Glasgow Dental Hospital and Postgraduate Centre:

5.10.22.  We had a great trip on the open top bus tour of Edinburgh.  Here I am on Waverley Bridge shortly after we arrived at Edinburgh Waverley Station:

I was also shown a lovely view of the city from Calton Hill:

6.10.22.  En route from Glasgow to London.  I was seen off by Vicky and met by Chris.

With Vicky on Glasgow’s Subway en route to Glasgow Central Station

7.10.22.  More walking beside the Thames at Pangbourne.  I was very lucky with the weather!

8.10.22.  An insight into the work of the Berkshire Community Dental Service at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.  Thank you to those who made this experience possible and enjoyable.  What a great selection of cakes we had!

With the dental team at the Royal Berkshire Hospital

9.10.22. An introduction to the National Trust at Basildon Park:

10.10.22.  Lisa and I took a walking tour of Oxford.  We saw lots of the colleges and also people punting on the river:

11.10.22.  I visited all the local Community Dental Service Clinics – it was lovely to meet so many of those who have assisted me over the years.  The day also included a trip to Dinton Pastures Nature Reserve:

13.10.22 and 14.10.22.  British Dental Association Community Dental Service Conference.  There were some great lectures – I learnt so much:

13.10.22.  Meeting an old friend at the Conference dinner.  Jeremy gave an interesting after dinner talk about the MalDent Project.

15.10.22.  The parks, pomp and pubs of London – cheers to Chris for the guided tour:

It was inspiring to see the statue of John Chilembwe, who fought for Malawian independence, which is now on a plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square:

16.10.22.  Church in the morning and then my first cinema trip to see The Woman King, a film based on a true story of an old African kingdom.  Very enjoyable.

17.10.22.  I spent a day at Dentaid with Lisa who was working in a mobile clinic supporting the homeless.  Here I am with Stuart Bassham outside Dentaid HQ in Southampton:

19.10.22.  Portsmouth – my first time to see the sea and to experience the invigorating sea breeze!

20.10.22.  Windsor.  What an amazing castle!

21.10.22.  A visit to the London Museums – Natural History and The Science Museum:

22.10.22.  Reading FC – they won 2:0.  I enjoyed cheering on the team with the supporters:

With Lisa and her son Oliver at Reading Football Club

23.10.22.  The day I flew home to the warm heart of Africa.

Thoughts from Lisa

It has been a pleasure to have Edward visit and to introduce him to my dental colleagues.  Over the years these colleagues have ‘adopted’ Edward and have generously supported him in his endeavours in Malawi.  They were so pleased to meet him and found it interesting to hear about his life and dentistry in Malawi.  I think they could not quite comprehend the amount and complexity of the work he undertakes.  I was so proud to call him my friend and at how well he coped with meeting so many new people.

I do hope Edward has enjoyed his visit.  As the photo diary confirms, he has certainly seen a lot!  I do wonder how such an experience will affect him on his return.  To see all we have here through the eyes of someone from Malawi has been challenging at times.  He has commented on the number of skips outside peoples’ houses with so many reusable items thrown away.  Upcycling is clearly embedded in Malawi.

Thank you to Edward for taking time away from his home and family to visit.  Thank you also to Nigel, Vicky, Jeremy and their friends for giving Edward such a wonderful experience of Scotland.

Yewo chomene for your visit Edward.  See you soon!

Thoughts from Edward

All in all, my coming to UK has been a dream changer.  Being on a plane, trains, wide green open rolling hills, all looked new to me and a strange experience.

One example is the payment systems; most of them are electronic, which is not existing in most systems in Malawi.

The historical structures and places I have seen and touched have also really complemented what I had learnt previously in school.  A worthwhile experience. Museums, famous rivers, universities and many other beautiful, attractive places have significantly changed my general perspective of life.  I’m no longer the same person.  A trip worth coming on.

The general friendliness of people and the spirit of willingness to assist wherever possible has taught me the spirit of sharing in times of need.

I have been to several different hospital and dental clinics in which I have experienced and gained lots of knowledge and ideas.  The systems and set ups have been worth learning from, for example the management of mental health patients in a dental setting.  The change from using metal dental syringes to disposable plastic ones has also been new and worth copying.


I would be very unfair in my conclusion if I don’t thank Chris and Lisa for making it possible for me to come out here to the UK.  A long-time dream come true.  I again would like to thank them for using their resources to take me around to different places and leaving their commitments.  I dearly thank God and feel very proud of them.  May I also extend my sincere thanks to Lisa’s friends for their continued support.

Let me further thank the family of Vicky and Nigel and that of Jeremy in Scotland for their time and for showing me many places.  Also for the invitation to a Scottish dance, a fund raising event for Smile North in Malawi.

There are many friends both new and old whom I have not mentioned here, but I dearly thank them too for the donation of different dental items.

My family and friends back home, I would like to thank them too.  In a special way, my thanks go to my dear wife Jean for allowing me to take up such an adventurous trip whilst she is left alone with very poor communication between us while here.

I love you all and may God bless us all.

Thank you.

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