Relief Riders International’s new mission: dental surgery for thousands in need


GREAT BARRINGTON, MA – After six years of successful “relief rides” into the remote desert villages of southern Rajasthan — and the provision of eye surgery, medical care, livestock, and school supplies to thousands of villagers in need — Relief Riders International (RRI) has embarked on a new mission to aid the rural inhabitants of the austerely beautiful Thar Desert: the dispensation of dental care.

As part of its relief ride program — which combines humanitarian outreach with adventure expeditions via horseback — RRI launched its new dental surgery camps in the distant communities of Nimaaj and Bordi, Rajasthan, in early 2010. These initial efforts — in a region where, until recently, the dentist-to-patient ratio was one practitioner per every 250,000 residents — were able to provide several hundred villagers with badly-needed dental procedures in January and February. And, according to RRI founder and executive director Alexander Souri, that’s only the beginning.

“Now that we’ve accomplished so much on other humanitarian fronts in the region — especially with our mobile eye camps, which have allowed us to successfully provide ophthalmic care to almost 2,000 villagers over the past few years — a recent state-wide ban on mobile eye surgeries in Rajasthan gave us the opportunity to refocus our strategy,” Souri said. “When we learned of the desperate need for dental care in these far-flung villages, we immediately adjusted our relief ride efforts to address that need.”

RRI’s dental camps are unique in that they service extremely remote communities — 100 to 300 miles from the nearest city — where dentistry is virtually unknown. In January and February of 2010, with the help of its relief riders and core staff, the organization’s team of dentists — led by Dr. Vivek Chaturvedi, a professor at Jaipur Dental College — set up the camps at Dharmshalas (local pilgrim hostels) in the communities of Nimaj and Bordi, Rajasthan. There, using state-of-the-art equipment, they were able to screen and treat some 500 villagers for dental procedures.

Since its inception in 2004, RRI has run relief missions in Rajasthan with the support of in-country medical and dental professionals, as well as relief riders. Paying trip participants ride rare Marwari horses through extraordinary desert landscapes to reach isolated rural villages; on the way they visit ancient temples and caves, spot exotic bird and animal life, and take part in traditional cultural celebrations.

In the desert communities, they help doctors and dentists to dispense medications and care, deliver school supplies to area schools, and present villagers with livestock to ensure their communities’ sustainability. While on site in the villages, relief riders stay in comfortable tented encampments and dine on freshly-prepared local cuisine.

Local response to RRI’s new undertaking has been overwhelmingly positive, said Souri — both from villagers and from trip participants.

“It’s extremely rewarding to provide such needed aid to these deserving communities,” Souri said, “but it’s equally gratifying to offer such a purposeful and inspiring experience to our riders. Everyone who takes part in these relief missions — whether they’re giving or receiving — feels their lives are changed for the better.”

RRI will continue to offer dental camps as part of its 2011 relief rides, currently scheduled for the following dates:

– Special New Year’s Relief Ride: December 28—January 12
– Narlai Relief Ride: January 25—February 9
– Sadarsamand Relief Ride: February 23—March 9

Relief Riders International is an award-winning travel company whose trips — combining adventure travel and humanitarian aid — have been featured in magazines including Outside, Forbes, National Geographic Adventure, and O—The Oprah Magazine.

For more information, contact Alexander Souri, Relief Riders International: or call 413.329.5876.