As a young soldier and new graduate of the Monterey Language School, Robert “Rob” Hampton was stationed in West Berlin translating calls made by Communist Party members in East Berlin and East Germany. “It was right after the Berlin Wall was built, the height of the Cold War,” he says. “It was the time of the Cuban missile crisis and John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In short, it was an historic and adventurous time to be there.”
Today, Rob finds adventure in a completely different line of work: changing lives through the healing art of dentistry, in places near and far.
Born in 1941 and raised in Oakland, California, Rob knew that he enjoyed working with his hands, relating to people, and studying science. “The only profession that fit those criteria was dentistry,” he says. So one lonely night in Berlin, he decided he would return to the U.S. and enroll at UC Berkeley to complete his undergraduate degree.
Attending college, and then dental school at UC San Francisco while supporting a wife and child, required Rob to work many jobs and long hours, but was well worth the effort when he set up his first practice in his hometown of Oakland. “I love dentistry because I derive much pleasure from caring for people as well as the art and science of the profession,” says Rob. After six years, he seized the opportunity to go to Kwajalein Island in Micronesia, working in a dental clinic that served the American research community there.
Two years later, he returned to California and opened an office in Napa Valley, where he has been practicing for 36 years. Rob continued his international aid work, traveling many times with his church on dental missions to Juchitan, Mexico. “Those trips and the people I met were life changing,” he says. In 2010, when an op- portunity arose for Rob to set up a dental clinic in the Daeyang Luke Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi, he welcomed the challenge. Rob explains, “After going to Mexico on dental mission trips, I was well versed on what to take to Malawi. I maintain a strong relationship with the clinic, returning to Daeyang Luke Hospital every year to work for two weeks.”
His time there has deepened his understanding of the country’s needs, and inspired his most recent endeavor: working with nursing schools. Because nurses run the country’s rural health clinics and are the only health professionals that most people see, Rob has now helped establish an educational program that he hopes will reach Malawi’s 18 nursing schools. “By educating the nurses about oral health, prevention, diagnosis, and basic treatment, there will be a far greater impact on the overall health of the people,” hesays.
His long-range aspiration is to secure a Rotary International grant to support a Malawian dentist to educate one faculty member at each of the 18 nursing schools, who would in turn train many nurses. He explains, “Malawi is a country of 15 million people with only 22 Western-trained dentists and approximately 220 Malawian dentists whose training is very limited. This equates to very few people getting any education in oral health and prevention, relief of pain, or treatment for life-threatening infections…As in other African countries, people die from diseases and infections that we in the U.S. consider routine.”
While Rob’s dentistry is its own form of art, he is also a painter and sculptor, selling his art in order to fund trips to Malawi, buy dental supplies for the clinic for a year, and fund other philanthropic needs there.
Having lived and worked throughout the world, Rob realizes that what matters most is the engagement with the people, not the sightseeing. He says, “My observation is that all people’s hopes, dreams, and needs are universal. There is so much despair and hopelessness worldwide that I encourage others to look at their God-given talents, experiences, and education and see how they can be used to make a difference.”