While most people across the country were preparing their Thanksgiving feasts and Black Friday shopping lists, two dental hygienists from the Dental Depot family boarded a plane, bound for Guatemala and an eye-opening week of giving.
Together, Candice Davis, our director of operational management, and Melinda Walther, a dental hygienist, traveled to Guatemala as volunteers with Global Dental Relief, a nonprofit that organizes small-group international volunteer experiences for people wanting to help brighten the smiles of children around the world.
Once in Guatemala, the duo, along with a team of some twenty volunteers got to work, seeing 608 children over five days. During that time, the team provided 209 cleanings, 641 sealants, 163 extractions, and 331 fillings to children in need.
“The best part of the trip was knowing that I was making an impact,” Candice explained. “Being able to help them [the children] get the care they couldn’t get in that area, they’re just not financially able to get the care they need.”
“Always, the favorite part is the whole reason why you go, to help the children. They have no, or very limited, access to dental care. And what access they have is not great,” Melinda said.
“Children in Guatemala are one of the most malnourished in the world and many drop out of school after 3rd grade to work in the fields,” Candice explained. “Most of the children have never had any dental care!”
“[Guatemala] was my second trip. I went to Kenya with them [Global Dental Relief] in January ,” Melinda said. “The kids in Guatemala seemed to be more scared. Most likely, if they had gone to the dentist before it was a bad experience, so there were definitely more kids who were scared than the kids in Kenya. Because in Kenya, they have no access, so they didn’t have any previously bad experiences.”
Volunteering on an international scale was something, “I’d always wanted to do,” Candice explained. “Melinda had done another mission with them. I said, ‘sign me up and let’s go!’”
“The most difficult thing besides seeing needy children is the language barrier,” Candice said. “We had translators, but we usually only used them if there was a fearful child. I knew just enough Spanish to say things like open, close, I’m going to clean your teeth … things like that.”
Volunteers on the Guatemala trip worked in a temporary dental pop-up clinic. And, while the majority of the trip was spent in clinic, they were able to enjoy Antigua during their evening downtime.
“In Guatemala there was time to focus on the dental part during the day, and at night to explore the city and do what we wanted,” Melinda said. “We were able to walk everywhere. There’s a lot of culture and a lot of things to see in Antigua.”
The volunteers usually went out as a group. They visited museums, took a walking tour of the city and learned about Antigua’s rich history, enjoyed local dinners and explored local markets for snacks. They even had the opportunity to visit the local chocolate factory and make their own chocolate.
“The experiences have been great!” Melinda said. “… They make sure you’re having a good time and enjoying the trip. You’re with a complete group of strangers from around the world, by the end of seven days you’ve made 20 new friends.”
Still, with all of the fun of the trip, both Melinda and Candice agree that the best part of their international volunteer experiences has been the opportunity to help children smile a little brighter.
Melinda already has her third trip booked. Her next stop – Cambodia. “I’m not much of a planner, I’m just gonna get on a plane and I’ll tell you about it when I get back,” she explained.
Candice said her experience in Guatemala was so great that she has already began planning her next mission trip for 2017. “It brought me back to my clinical roots, which was good. It felt nice to be able to do that again.”