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Healthy Teeth Challenge, South Africa

Meet Action Researcher Alice

Door Margit van Boheemen

“Looking for solutions together with the community.
Just the right balance between science and practice!”

Alice Grasveld is what you call a centipede. She is an independent dental hygienist, medical anthropologist and teacher. She combines all this with various oral care projects in developing countries.
The PAR method of SevenSenses is an important success factor. Reason enough to visit Alice. What are her experiences and what tips does she have for people who also want to work with PAR? To the core “It is in my nature as a caregiver to help people,” Alice smiles. “In addition to my work in the Netherlands, I also wanted to contribute to oral care in countries where things are not going so well. I went to Kenya a number of times through the Dutch Dental Care Foundation to help. It appealed to me that I started a study in medical anthropology: a study of how people from different cultures deal with their health. One of my projects was oral health in underprivileged children. My conclusion? Action enough from dental development organizations, but the core of the problem was not considered. Instead of treating afterwards, we can work better to preventively improve oral health. I wanted to take up that challenge. That eventually resulted in my own foundation: The Healthy Teeth Foundation. Tooth decay and toothache are the main reasons for absenteeism in African slums. That is disastrous, because education is the only way to get out of the ‘poverty trap’. So I like to commit myself to that.”

What role does SevenSenses play for Alice? “I saw an ad from SevenSenses on Oneworld. I joined a SevenSenses project on female entrepreneurship in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. There I came into contact with the PAR method. It inspired: I immediately saw opportunities to apply this to oral health in children. It was then a logical step to follow a course at SevenSenses. As a supervisor I was able to start my own project. I didn’t have to think long. It was the Healthy Teeth Challenge in Mfuleni Township in Cape Town, South Africa, for Dental Wellness Trust.”

Together with the community
With which Alice even won the AUV alumnus prize in 2017. “This is largely due to the PAR method I learned at SevenSenses. I was convinced that with this method, in collaboration with the community and Dental Wellness Trust, I could achieve even more. The PAR method provided just the right balance between science and practice. Looking for solutions together with the community is wonderful. It was the reason for my own foundation, where I could use the method even more often. With The Healthy Teeth Foundation, we conduct research into oral health in children in deprived neighborhoods. The use of the participatory action research (PAO) of SevenSenses forms an important basis in this.”

Perfect tool
Alice followed the SevenSenses training in 2017. Her experiences? “You get practical tools that you can immediately apply in practice. The enthusiasm of Madelon Eelderink, the founder of SevenSenses, is infectious. You want to start using the method right away! ”Alice says enthusiastically. “I think it is the perfect tool to apply. During my research, I also use the beautiful Appreciative Inquiry method: what are the local talents, successes and skills? I also spend a lot of time with the local people. By showing genuine interest and paying attention, you build a bond. This creates mutual trust, understanding for the project and you can
empower people.”

What can researchers do who will work with PAR? Alice smiles. “I don’t have much tips, but it is useful if you are a practical researcher and don’t want to be too scientific. Fast solutions are preferred. As far as I am concerned, doing purely scientific research – determining the problem, but not solving it – can easily be replaced by the PAR method. The academic literature on this is increasing. Large organizations and government agencies are also increasingly asking for action researchers because you can really achieve community participation. That helps to embrace the methodology. In any case, I can recommend it to everyone! ”

About Alice Grasveld
Alice Grasveld is a dental hygienist, medical anthropologist and action researcher. She works as a Lecturer in Oral Hygiene at InHolland University of Applied Sciences and in a dental hygienist practice. Alice volunteered for dental development projects in Africa, researched it and set up her own foundation “The Healthy Teeth Foundation” in 2018.
In 2017 she won the AUV alumnus prize with the SevenSenses project Healthy Teeth Challenge (Cape Town, South Africa). In 2020 she received the VIVA 400 Top Women Award in the category “World Improvers” for The Healthy Teeth Foundation. In the future she would like to expand the activities of her foundation to South America and Asia and perhaps obtain a doctorate. In the meantime, she is building hand washing stations in Kenya to combat the spread of the coronavirus.