Dr. Frank C. Andolino II named 2016 ADA Humanitarian
January 26, 2016
Rusinga Island, Nyanza province, Kenya
— Dr. Frank C. Andolino II first heard about Rusinga Island while scaling the largest mountain in Africa.
"After having spent three weeks extracting teeth in a remote Tanzanian village, I climbed Kilimanjaro," said Dr. Andolino, while being interviewed from his Manhattan orthodontic practice. "En route to the summit I met a Peace Corps volunteer who was working with a small youth group in western Kenya."
It was on that island in 2003 where Dr. Andolino decided to help the people of that remote migrant fishing village. Two years later, he co-founded Kageno, a New York City-based nonprofit operating two community development projects in Kenya and a third in Rwanda. The three projects are on the way to sustainability, serving more than 24,000 people who before had only known devastating poverty.
Dr. Frank C. Andolino II
In recognition of his more than three decades of service, which includes his establishment and continuing commitment to Kageno, Dr. Andolino has been named the 2016 ADA Humanitarian Award recipient. He will be honored during ADA 2016 — America's Dental Meeting Oct. 20-25 in Denver.
"As a privileged American, it's my responsibility to help others," said Dr. Andolino. "If we all played a small part in helping those less fortunate, this planet would be a substantially more balanced and healthy place for everyone."
A place of hope
The name "Kageno" translates to "a place of hope" in the Kenyan dialect of Dholuo, but when Dr. Andolino first saw Rusinga Island, hope was hard to come by. He had been on many humanitarian missions before, to many parts of the world, but the destitution he experienced in that village in Kenya was unlike any he had ever seen.
"There is need in every community, but the levels of poverty are drastically different in the regions where Kageno's projects reside," he said. "The communities have little to no access to health care, no safe drinking water, no electricity, and no proper sanitation. These remote locations, where the vast majority of the population are subsistence farmers, are some of the poorest communities in the poorest countries on the planet."
In addition to the lack of resources, Rusinga Island was at the epicenter of Kenya's AIDS epidemic, where four in 10 people were infected in the community. Also rampant were diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, typhoid, bilharzia (schistosomiasis) and cholera, he said.
To make matters worse, the island is located on Lake Victoria, which was under siege by pollution, including the dumping of raw sewage and other toxic chemicals. Since the community on Rusinga Island was almost completely dependent on the lake for income generation and as a primary source of water, the devastating pollution caused eight in 10 people to be unemployed, Dr. Andolino said.
Hungry children foraged for food in piles of trash and ate dirt to quell their hunger. Desperate women and girls prostituted themselves to predatory migrant fisherman in exchange for fish, exacerbating the already accelerated spread of HIV/AIDS. The area was void of foliage, stripped by a population unable to afford any other form of cooking fuel.
Hands-on help: Dr. Frank Andolino mixes cement for the foundation of a new school built by his nonprofit organization Kageno on Rusinga Island in Kenya.
Dr. Andolino's Kageno developed programs that would help alleviate the community's suffering. Kageno set out to provide four pillars of support, and years later, the results are striking as Kageno's model has been duplicated in two more locations, with Dr. Andolino dedicating much of his life to traveling to Africa. The four pillars with examples of each are:
A lifetime of giving
- Ventures: Kageno operates microloan programs, where locals use microloans to fund small enterprises such as selling fish and bicycle repair. Kageno also supports local craftspeople by helping them earn income. In addition to crafts marketed internationally, some products are sold directly to the community. For example, Kageno purchases soap from a local soapmaking collective funded by Kageno. Then, students at the Kageno-built nursery school use the soap.
- Health care: Kageno has performed more than 10,000 immunizations. One notable example of the health initiative is the Sue Folk Health Clinic at Kageno Rwanda, which offers pharmacy-supported clinical services for the entire community.
- Education: Kageno provides early childhood education for kids ages 3 to 6, and more than 300 children a year receive lessons in English, math, hygiene and art in schools built by Kageno. Additionally, all 2,300 school age children in the community receive a nutritious meal each day. With English now being an official language in Rwanda, Kageno also offers English classes with 85 adults attending class on a regular basis.
- Environment: Kageno Rwanda's water project, for example, provides clean water for more than 10,000 people. In 2011 the system was expanded to provide clean water to two local schools and another 1,600 people. In 2014, with the help of the Peace Corps, the water system was expanded even further.
As impressive as Kageno's success has been, it is not Dr. Andolino's only foray into being a humanitarian. At Michigan State, where he majored in zoology with intent to become a veterinarian, the Rochester, New York, native spent his off hours teaching English to Laotian refugees.
His community service continued once he changed focus and became a dental student — he is a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Dentistry with a certificate in orthodontics from the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery (now known as the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine).
Before starting Kageno, Dr. Andolino was active overseas, especially with his affiliation with the nonprofit Heath Volunteers Overseas. He has conducted humanitarian missions teaching health care professionals in Vietnam, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Nepal, and also served as the HVO program director in Tanzania.
In his own backyard, he has worked with homeless youth and runaways at Covenant House, was an event planner and member of support services of the New York state Special Olympics from 1994-2000, shared his time with Habitat for Humanity from 1991-1993, and has volunteered his services at nursing homes and high schools.
Dr. Andolino's selection came about based on a lengthy nomination process, and was applauded by the Connecticut-based dentist Dr. Jack Levine, who first met Dr. Andolino in Nepal on a humanitarian mission and has since worked alongside him in western Nepal and Bhutan.
Appreciation: Dr. Frank Andolino offers gratitude for everyone that participated in creating Kageno's first school on Mangano Island in Kenya. Kageno is Dr. Andolino's nonprofit organization.
"Frank gets up early and runs fast," said Dr. Levine. "Frank has built and will continue to leave a legacy to commitment and care. He has developed programs that will remain in place, monitored and supervised for their longevity. The programs that he has created will continue to evolve and remain in place well beyond the time of Dr. Frank Andolino. He is the source of their success."
"I know that Frank, in spite of his busy schedule in Manhattan, spends part of every day worrying about and working on Kageno," said Paul Farmer, Ph.D., M.D., noted humanitarian and public health expert who is the founder of the global health organization Partners in Health. "Never have I met someone [from the ADA] more worthy of this award than is Frank Andolino. He is the person who always goes the extra mile."
Dr. James D. Hudson, a New York City-based dentist, related a personal story that attested to Dr. Andolino's reputation throughout the dental community. "In 2010, I attended the American Dental Association's Symposium on International Volunteerism in Orlando. A group of about 40 attended the day-and-a-half meeting. I was the most inexperienced and met people who had volunteered in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Upon hearing I was from New York, I heard from no less than seven people: Do you know Frank Andolino?" The fact that he did elevated him in their eyes, he said.
"With more than three decades serving the underserved all over the world, Dr. Andolino inspires all of us to be humanitarians in our own special ways," said ADA President Carol Gomez Summerhays. "His program Kageno has transformed the lives of people in Kenya and Rwanda, and it is the Board's honor to bestow the 2016 ADA Humanitarian Award to him for his devotion and dedication. It was my privilege to call him with the news of his award."
When he received the call from Dr. Summerhays, Dr. Andolino said he was surprised and shocked. "I was speechless," he said. "I didn't see it coming at all."
Dr. Andolino said that this honor is not his alone. "Kageno wouldn't have been possible without my orthodontic patients and friends," he said. "I have many celebrity and high-profile patients who have graciously helped with both financial contributions, introductions to potential partners and personal appearances at our events. My patients have been very generous."
Celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Donna Karan and Kate Spade are among the people who have supported Kageno by either contributing money or making appearances at his annual Harambee Gala fundraiser.
The ADA Humanitarian Award was launched in 2007 and is the Association's highest humanitarian honor. This prestigious award recognizes member dentists who have distinguished themselves by outstanding, unselfish leadership and at least a 10-year commitment to their fellow human beings in the field of dentistry, through the dedication of extraordinary time and professional skills to improve the oral health of underserved populations in the United States and abroad.
Dr. Andolino will receive a $10,000 donation to his charity of choice, and said it would go to Kageno.
To learn more about Kageno or to make a donation, visit kageno.org
To learn more about the ADA Humanitarian Award, visit ADA.org
and search for Humanitarian Award.