For the second year in a row, two fourth-year students had the privilege of travelling abroad with the Change for Children organization to provide dental care to those in need.
Change for Children is a non-profit organization that serves some of the most remote areas of the world. Every year they provide dental and medical care, education and support for water development projects. They improve the lives of those who are less fortunate and help a countless number of people.
Drs. Nekky Jamal and Raegan Eliasson offer students scholarship opportunities to travel abroad and perform dentistry. The students are part of a diverse team helping make a difference in the lives of others while advancing their own clinical skills. Josh Marshall and I, Shane Van Biezen, were eager to be a part of this exciting and rewarding experience.
This year’s trip started at Houston International Airport where we met other members of the brigade team before heading down to Ecuador. Landing in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, we were immediately wowed with the vast landscape of green rolling hills and dense vegetation. It was beautiful! After spending a night in Quito,
we boarded a bus and travelled to our first clinic in the remote mountain ranges that would be our home for the next few days.
No one could have prepared us for the amount of work that lay ahead. The next few days consisted of setting up our makeshift operatories in community halls or school gymnasiums, and providing dental care to several hundred kids a day. Clinics ended late in the day only when all the waiting children had received the appropriate care.
The majority of our days were spent extracting un-restorable infected teeth, restoring simple areas of decay, providing hygiene, and giving important oral hygiene instructions for home care. At the end of each day, the team was exhausted, both mentally and physically.
Most of our challenges came when trying to communicate with the patients. It forced us to find other ways of communicating. Each day was a challenging yet humbling experience.
Upon finishing our clinic days in the mountain ranges, we boarded a bus back to Quito and flew into Los Agrios. We then travelled several hours by bus and boat into the remote region of the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve on a tributary of the Amazon near the boarder of Colombia. We set up our last few days of clinic in the Seqoia community where many of the residents had never seen a dentist or medical professional. The joy we saw on the faces of the kids and their families was indescribable. To show their gratitude, we were fortunate enough to be invited into their homes and even had several home cooked meals.
To describe our experience as humbling would be inadequate. However, we all gained a greater understanding of just how fortunate we are to live in a country with access to medical care, clean running water and all the other amenities we take for granted on a daily basis.
Dr. Jamal and Dr. Eliasson are continuing their scholarship program this coming year. Drs. Nekky Jamal and Erik Johnson, Josh Marshall and myself will be travelling with three fourth-year students—Jordan Enns, Jason Kopchynski and Brett Spenrath—this year. This dental brigade team will be travelling to the volcanic region of Chinandega, Nicaragua.
The generosity of alumni like Dr. Jamal and Dr. Eliasson provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to students. This experience gives them the opportunity to provide the local communities with dental care, which they would otherwise never receive.