I am happy to share another dental mission trip with you. Check back weekly for more stories about my trips!
Humanitarian Mission November 2007
“What are you doing in November?” my sister Danielle asked me one day in April. As long as I can remember, being the youngest in the family, I have eagerly agreed to many of her suggestions. This was how it all started.
Danielle and my brother-in-law, Sloane, have created a charitable foundation called The Women and Children’s Hope Foundation. In their search for an organization/program in which to sponsor, they come across IASK (International Aid Serving Kids). IASK is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2002 with the belief that one person can make a difference in the world. They are a volunteer organization for child advocacy and humanitarian aid. IASK is able to organize several humanitarian missions each year to provide orphanages and poverty stricken communities with medical/dental care and health education. They help to provide education, job training and assistance with other child-related services to encourage independence. Their November mission was scheduled to go to the Dominican Republic.
Ahh, the Dominican Republic...
- Discovered and named Hispaniola by Christopher Columbus in 1492.
- Was inhabited by Taino Indians, but now 70% of the population is a mix of African and European descent.
- The main industry is sugarcane followed by tobacco/coffee/cotton.
- Tourism began in the 1970’s and is continuing to boom.
- The population of the country is approximately 9,219,800 with 95% of the religion as Catholic.
- 7 boxes of gloves (100/box)
- 500+ toothbrushes
- 6 full sets of hygiene instruments
- 500 +toothpastes
- 4 pkgs. surface disinfectant
- 500+ floss
- 12 towels
- Education pamphlets in Spanish
- 2 lrg. bottles of hand sanitizer
- Saliva ejectors
- Soap/utility gloves/scrub brushes
- Cotton rolls
- Tray paper/lrg. tupperware containers
- 2x2 guaze (6 pkgs.)
- Masks (150)
- 3 pairs scrubs
- 2 50lb suitcases of children’s clothing/toys
My dental team consisted of 3 dentists (Chad, Brian, Lon), 2 hygienists (Kathy, myself), 4 dental students (Jude-4th yr, Christy, Ankur, Laura, Jessica -3rd yrs.), and 2 pre-dental students (Brian, Ryan). Jude was the only member of the team that had served on a mission before. The rest of us were about to find out.
DAY 1: “Lots of Luggage”
*Awake 4:20 a.m.
Travelling along with my mom, Jill, we have 200lbs of supplies (4 suitcases), two 30 lbs carry-ons and purses between us. A bit distressing but no complications through immigration. After de-icing the wings of the plane at Winnipeg International Airport (it was November 1st on the prairies, after all), we proceeded to White Plains, New York, via Chicago to meet up with Danielle and Sloane. A gracious thank you to Sloane’s sister and brother-in-law for allowing us to stay two nights with them in Rowayton, CT.
*Bedtime 10:00 p.m. (2 hour time change)
DAY 2: “Total Tourist”
*Awake 6:45 a.m.
What can I say…New York City!
*Bedtime 10:00 p.m.
DAY 3: “More Luggage!”
*Awake 4:45 a.m.
Our drive to JFK International Airport was 1 hour long. Our group is now 4 people, which means that we now have increased our luggage capacity to 400lbs of suitcases, four 30lb carry-ons, three purses, and one backpack. More distress! Unbelievable, but we have no problems clearing immigration at JFK airport; however, we find out that we are 18th in line for take-off. After a 1-hour delay on the tarmac and a 4.5-hour flight, we safely arrive at Punta Cana airport in the Dominican Republic. We sail through customs - PHEW! I can’t wait to get to the hotel to unload these supplies. Sloane has rented a van and is our driver. It only takes moments to realize that the yellow line down the center of the road is but a mere guideline or suggestion! We also question why the vehicles even have turn signal indicators. There appears to be more motorbikes used than cars or trucks, and they seem to have even less respect for the rules of the road.
On route to Higuey, we see lush, beautiful, green landscape. Fields of sugar cane, many livestock and an abundance of standing water. One week prior to our arrival, Hurricane Dean blew through the country. 107 people were killed and it rained for 3 days straight. We arrive safely to the Don Carlos Hotel in Higuey. Hooray - we unload all of the luggage! We all have supper in the hotel restaurant. Two local members of Illens’ group (Socrates and Wilchee) join us and they begin the plan of attack for the week. More of the volunteer team arrives with tons of luggage as well, and we now begin to amalgamate and sort supplies.
*Bedtime 11:00 p.m.
DAY 4: “Ready to Start!”
*Awake 6:00 a.m.
We are still awaiting the second half of the volunteers to arrive, so we still cannot organize their supplies yet. We are in limbo. “Let’s go swimming!”, Danielle says. It is recommended that we go to Bayahibe. We arrive in Bayahibe and find that the hurricane has left the water not as clear green/blue as one might expect. After serious negotiations, we find ourselves being jetted off by a small boat south down to Isla Saona. It is a natural island reserve. Our captain shows us mangroves, volcanic rock, stingray, and starfish. We stop for swimming in “piscina natural”, which is a sandbar in the ocean just like you would imagine it to be. Absolutely gorgeous! We arrive back at the hotel in time to shower and attend the mission meeting at the church. We now split into our groups of occupation and divide into two teams. There will be two medical teams and two dental teams, paired and sent to different locations each day. Afterward, we return to the hotel and organize all the new supplies.
*Bedtime 11:30 p.m.
DAY 5: “Here we go!”
*Awake 5:00 a.m.
I belong to Dental Team B. We have been assigned 2 dentists, myself, 1.5 dental students (Jude has an interview for 2 days in Puerto Rico), and 1 pre-dental student. We have several support staff volunteers, as well as a few interpreters. We meet together at 7:00 a.m. in the lobby and join the Medical Team B. Today, Team A will go to El Seibo and Team B will go to “the Batey.”
La Fortuna is the dominant sugar cane manufacturer in the country. They have built small bateys (some may call them concentration camps) within their sugar cane fields. Out of sight, out of mind. These "Bateys" are inhabited by Haitian refugees who will live in poverty and work for almost nothing because it is still better than living in the conditions of Haiti itself. Their “homes” were approximately 15 x 25 feet, made out of tin, (built like a side by side). There is no electricity, running water, bathrooms, etc. One of these people’s main food staples was the sugarcane. Obviously OK for nutrition, as my sister reported that there was not a high abundance of malnutrition; however, very bad for dentistry! We were fortunate that some Bateys had a small church where we could set up.
We set up with one central table, which we brought with us for our dental supplies and four places to work on patients. I had a small table closer to the door in order to triage patients and administer anesthetic. The dental chairs consisted of a patio chair in which we would have each patient tip their head back onto a few glove boxes on the tables. I only did 4 dental cleanings; 2 on children and 2 for the local adults that were helpful to our group. We were greatly appreciative for these people for their volunteer time in helping us!
People lined up for hours to have treatment done. Some were torn as to which line to be in. They needed both medical and dental treatment and were afraid if they went to one that there would not be enough time to be seen in the other one. Our priorities were emergencies, then children, and then adults. Unfortunately, we had to extract a lot of permanent teeth on the children.
At the end of the day, we had to completely disassemble our work area as we would not return to the same Batey in the week. Unfortunately, there had to be crowd control at both medical and dental doors as the panic set in that the remaining people would not be treated. It is so unjust.
There were many shared stories of the day (happy and sad) on the ride back to the hotel.
*Bedtime 11:00 p.m.
DAY 6: “Ready to go again!”
*Awake 5:00am (I’m not liking the rooster!)
We gather again in the hotel lobby at 7:30am. Today, Group B is going back to the Batey, however we find out that we were broken in gently yesterday. Apparently we were in a Batey that was upper class. Today we are going to middle class. Team A will be in El Seibo again.
We arrive to the expected changes from one class to another. We do not see small gardens nor are there any windows in the “dwellings.” The church that we are to work in today is significantly smaller. Today my job is the same. I am triaging and administering anesthetic. Our dental team is running out of short needles and Septocaine by the end of the day. It is very sad because that means our primary work today was many extractions on young children (one 8yr old girl had 6 extractions!). Chad has “fixed a smile.” He has taken great time and has done 6 restorations across the front teeth of this teenager to remove severe decay and eliminate extractions. All the people (volunteers included) stare at this wonderful accomplishment.
DAY 7: “ Apparently the hardest day to work!”
Today Team A is staying in Higuey and Team B is going to “Haitichichita.” (little Haiti) This is an extremely poor area on the outskirts of Higuey. We aren’t really sure why Wednesday is the day when volunteers “hit the wall”, but in the past they normally work only ½ of the day.
We arrive to an even smaller church. I find that the people here are still in need of dental treatment, but not in desperate need. Some turn down treatment. I see 1 or 2 cell phones during my day, as well as a few manicures. We see a few old fillings in their teeth. Somewhere in the past, some were able to have dental treatment. Maybe it was IASK last year.
Another smile is fixed today. The medical team also starts to do some quick dental triaging as the dental triage area is going slower today. Maybe it is the choosing of the individuals themselves not to have treatment, or the lack of communication, or the draw to acquire vitamins in the medical line. It was not as smooth triaging today. Lunch does not arrive today. It seems to be a miscommunication or someone has pocketed the money. I am now hot, sunburned, hungry, frustrated and tired. The medical team is running out of vitamins, the dental team is again running out of anesthetic and needles again. We are also losing 5 of our team members tomorrow. (they are going home earlier). On top of these factors, you begin to have the realization that no matter how much effort you are putting in, that there won’t be anyone here for these people next week, or the week after, or the week after. You also have the realization that it will be many generations upon generations before something might change for the better of these people.
I cry. I can see why Wednesday is the hard day.
DAY 8: “Christmas 1993 - I have eaten rooster before!”
*Awake 6:15am - I now HATE the rooster.
Feeling good! There is something to be said for knowing it is your last day. It’s like you have a new energy source. Team A and Team B are both going to the Batey, but different areas. Again the same scenario applies. After all that I have seen during this week, I feel very much in place.
Soon I find the pews that have been removed from the church and are lined up in rows behind my outside triage area are full of many people. I ask my missionary interpreter to ask them what is going on and he translates that I am their TV. These people are not used to groups of volunteers swooping into their areas. We are a great source of entertainment.
It is hard knowing that some children are in school and are benefiting themselves in that way, but missing out on medical and dental treatment. Again a smile was fixed today. I cannot tell you how good that that feels in the midst of such decay. It is too bad that we cannot be in one spot for such a long time as to treat and follow through on treatment to ensure thorough and proper medical and dental care.
Upon packing up and awaiting our ride, we see a very sad thing. First my eyes gaze upon Laura and Ryan playing baseball with the local children. Everyone wants to be a “Sammy Sosa.” I smile. In the background, however, I realize that our now carefully packaged up garbage has been dragged out to the edge of the cane fields and is being dumped and sorted through (this includes our sharps, blood, saliva, etc.) for anything that could possibly be of value. Remember: these people have nothing! One of the missionaries goes to speak to them, to let them know about HIV/AIDS. They have no fear. It is a way of life for them. I’m now sad. I don’t participate so much in the stories on the way back to the hotel.
Adam, the videographer, grabs me for an interview. I can’t imagine why I cry during this, but I do. It is really hard to process this whole week adventures. I am glad that I have kept a journal.
DAY 9: “Last Working Day”
We organize clothing/toys/hygiene kits/etc. to be dispersed for today, as we are going to the Bateys. We go the 1st Batey and drop off things at the school, as well as give out handouts along the way. We then go to the next Batey and it goes horribly wrong.
All we want to do is drop off clothes/hygiene kits, but it is clearly evident that it is survival of the fittest and it is a massive fight for who can get the most. We are not feeling very good about our presence. Our van is mobbed, so we leave. We now drive to another Batey and go directly to the teacher. We can only trust that she will distribute these items accordingly and not choose to sell them for her own profit.
There have been some good relationships as well as appreciation for people’s contributions to this mission. It is sad to leave. There are many promises of returns for next year. I read in the previous IASK magazine of a quote from a previous volunteer and she summed it up really well (Keri Adams): “Every member is a volunteer. They each have families, careers or school, but still manage to take time out of their busy lives to help support their cause. They do it without compensation and they do it with enthusiasm and willingness because they truly want to make a difference in the lives of the helpless children all over the world.”
I don’t think that it could be expressed any better.
I have learned a lot! Thank you all,
Monique Harrison-Nault R.D.H.
My Thanks to:
My Dental Reps :
Terrol @ Henry Schein (Ash /Arcona)
Lorie @ Butler/Sunstar
Candace @ Colgate/Polmolive
Kathy @ Germiphine
Gerry @ Sinclair Dental
Colin @ Accuquip
for all the supplies that I was able to bring to help this dental team on this mission, you can’t imagine how much help your contributions were.
Dr. Ken Shek: for the time off work and for 575 floss samples and 300 tubes of toothpaste.
Illens Dort: for inviting me along with the mission.
The Women and Children’s Hope Foundation: for sponsoring me to be there
My sister, Danielle: for great support
My brother-in-law, Sloane: for an unbelievable everything else.
- For the whole entire volunteer team that came together to create one awesome team!
- My friends who donated clothing.
- My husband, Mike, and my son for taking responsibility and making life easy here, so that I could go there
Stats of our November mission:
Total Team A and B:
Total Patients: 1212 (with approx. 20 pregnancies)
Dental: Total Patients: 558