Dr. Eric Curtis pulls a tooth in a Tibetan refugee settlement in India.
Dr. Eric Curtis pulls a tooth in a Tibetan refugee settlement in India.

More than 120,000 Tibetan refugees live in India, several thousand of them in Manipat, a cluster of refugee camps in rural eastern India.   They followed the 14th Dali Lama who was offered asylum after China invaded their country in 1959.

Dr. Eric Curtis, a dentist from Safford, Arizona, will present a travelogue about these refugee camps Friday, July 24, beginning at 3:30 p.m. in the Great Room of the ASA Building.

Last December-January, Curtis joined a team of dental hygiene students from Northern Arizona University that provided dental care to refugees in Manipat.  He will describe his interactions with Tibetans in exile as well as with local indigenous tribespeople.

The last of four annual expeditions, the trip was sponsored by NAU’s College of Health and Human Services.  Each involved about 20 people, included students and faculty from a variety of disciplines, depending on the requests from the program host, a Tibetan Buddhist lama who runs a children’s monastery.  These have included dental hygiene, nursing, physician’s assistant studies, public health, engineering, forestry, journalism, and business. This year a veterinarian also accompanied the group to give rabies vaccines to the many semi-feral dogs in the camps.

Curtis said his daughter Jillian was selected to go on the program’s second trip in 2012 when she was a senior dental hygiene student at NAU.  “She recruited me because the lama had requested a dentist.  The lama provided us food and shelter at the monastery, as well as entree to aspects of tantric Buddhist practice and an introduction to the lives of the Tibetan exiles we treated.”

Curtis described his experience on that first trip to the refugee campus during an ASA lecture in the summer of 2013.   He wrote an article about his two visits for a recent edition of the Arizona Dental Association’s Inscriptions Journal of which he the editor.   Following is a excerpt from that article:

“You go to Mainpat, site of a seven-village cluster representing the neediest of India’s 35 Tibetan refugee camps, once out of curiosity. Out of a hankering for adventure. For a tiny taste of the unknown and the exotic. You go to conquer fear—of flying, of crowds, of illness, of inconvenience and loss of control, of the dreaded bomber-pit Eastern latrines. You go to protect your daughter, who is herself hell-bent on going.

“You go to Mainpat twice out of sympathy. Out of anger at the Chinese government expansionism that threatens Tibetans with cultural genocide, at the endless human hubris and greed that causes so much suffering. You go out of romantic noblesse oblige to champion the cause of an impossibly displaced, enchantingly exotic people. You go out of friendship.”

Curtis was named Dentist of the Year by the Arizona Dental Association in both 1999 and 2004.

— Written by H. Deon Holt, Academy Village Volunteer

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Dentist Reconnects with Tibetan Refugees in India: July 2015
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