For dentist Kate McGinn, the office can be a littler further than the drive from her home in Afton to her practice at Metro Dentalcare in Cottage Grove.

Four weeks a year, she travels to remote spots on the map, performing dental work for the needy in Mexico, Vietnam and Haiti.

Last month, she was part of a mission team that traveled to Kenya to provide medical and dental care to people at a bush clinic in the village of Kapenguria. Kapenguria is home to the Daylight Model School, an orphanage that houses, feeds and educates nearly 300 children who were orphaned by inter-tribal violence in the area.

In addition to a portable table, surgical tools and anesthesia, McGinn brought a duffel bag stuffed with 350 toothbrushes to hand out.

“I found it astonishing,” she said of Africa. “It’s beautiful there in a very different way. I loved seeing the way the different cultures functioned.”

McGinn began her mission work more than a decade ago when a youth minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in St. Paul Park invited her on one of their annual missions to Mexico.

“I guess when I first went to Mexico I thought it would be an adventure,” she said. “The youth director said, ‘If you came as a dentist you could probably help some people.’ I packed up. I said, ‘Let’s give it try,’ and I guess I got hooked.”

When packing for her African mission McGinn left her power drills at home - there was no electricity in the places she was going. Her “office” closed when the sun went down.

She said she would have liked to have cleaned everybody’s teeth, but that it was more important to relieve their pain by extracting infected molars and bicuspids.

“I saw 47 people in one day,” she said, “which is more than twice what I usually see working here. … My hand was ready to fall off.”

After their stay in Kapenguria they drove north to the village of Alale, near the border with Uganda. The ride was of the bump-bump-bang variety, McGinn said.

“The most astonishing thing to me was how absolutely terrible, unbelievably bad, the road was,” she said. “It took us six hours to go 90 miles. I had to take a Dramamine.”

The residents of Alale had never seen a dentist before. Who was this stranger with the white mask and strange light on her head?

“The person who was working with me as an interpreter told me when they have a bad tooth their medicine man will bend a nail and take it out,” McGinn said.

You’d think they’d choose her over the nail, but that wasn’t always the case.

“It’s the pain you know versus the pain you don’t know,” McGinn said. “The women in particular were very apprehensive about letting me do that. That was kind of an obstacle there.”

The team slept in a tent and subsisted on beef jerky, granola bars and nuts for three days.

One night, the Pokot sacrificed and roasted a goat in their honor.

McGinn said her biggest concern was wild animals, but the most fearsome beasts they encountered were camels and cows.

“I was worried about snakes and hyenas,” she said.

McGinn traveled with a team that included doctors Joel Jensen of Afton and Lenny Snellman of Stillwater. Snellman is a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater. They’re one of several local churches who support the Daylight Model School.

Snellman, a pediatrician, traveled to Africa last year. He said most of the children at the Daylight lost their parents to violence among the three herding tribes who call the region home. Each tribe claims ownership of all the cows, Snellman said. The “herdsboys” who look after the cattle carry spears and bows and arrows in case of a confrontation with a rival tribe. Some carry guns.

“It’s not AIDS,” Snellman said of their life-threatening danger. “It’s being shot by these other tribes.”

The Daylight school was co-founded by the survivor of one such battle, Michael Kimpur. A member of the Pokot tribe, he was herding cattle with fellow tribesmen in 1980 when they mistakenly crossed into Uganda. They were ambushed by a rival tribe who had acquired guns by raiding an armory that was once controlled by deposed dictator Idi Amin.

“Michael’s dream is to raise the kids of the three tribes together so they don’t fight,” Snellman said.

In Kenya, Kimpur excelled at school and eventually traveled to Minnesota to enroll in Bethel University. Upon returning to Africa after graduation, he co-founded Daylight with money from Nathan Roberts, who was his roommate at Bethel.

“I was the chair of the mission committee at the time and Michael and I became friends,” Snellman said. “You can’t go to Kenya and see these kids excited and not have it change your life.”

When the kids got a new swingset, for example, Snellman said he was astonished at how each child would take 10 swings before letting the next person try it.

They figured it out on their own, he said.

“We go over to help them and to help teach them some of what we know,” he said, “but the stuff that we’ve learned is amazing too.”