Dental Outreach to Remote Schools in the Western Highlands

February 10, 2016 Ash Wednesday … Reflections from Team Member Susie Poulton

teeth with caries

Today some members of our Iowa MOST team went to visit three schools in the highlands of Guatemala. The sky was cloudless and the scenery was beautiful as we were driven another 5,000 feet into the mountains on very windy roads.  The first village we visited was Nuevo Community.  This village had some electricity and the school had desks, a chalkboard, and some books.  We provided a dental hygiene lesson with song and dance. The children knew the answers to our questions about how to care for their teeth with brushing and that white teeth are healthy teeth.  Each child was given a toothbrush, donated by Dr. Karen Vargas, Corridor Kids Dentistry in North Liberty.   Paco read Where the Wild Things Are to the children in Spanish and our team provided the animation.

The next village we visited was further in the mountains, where there was no electricity and limited access to water. There were two teachers for about 110 children.  There was no electricity.  One of the teachers takes a 90-minute bus ride and then walks another 45 minutes to get to school every day.  Now that is commitment!  Here we provided the same dental hygiene education, then had the children brush their teeth with their new toothbrush.  After that, we applied fluoride varnish to each child.  The children did a wonderful job with the varnishes.  Most of them probably never had someone put gloved hands near their mouth!  After the varnishes the children enjoyed face painting and received fleece scarves.  They put the scarves directly over their mouths and face because it felt so soft on their dry and sore skin.  Since the children spend so much time outdoors their skin is very dry and cracked.  Many of the children had fairly good teeth, while others had much decay.

For the final school, we had to be driven in 4-wheel drive pick-up trucks because our bus would never be able to make the sharp turns of the very rough roads up the mountainside. Some of the more adventurous members of our group rode in the back of the trucks!!  We went to a school that was just built and developed as a recognized school a few months ago by a local Rotarian, David…….  The parents worked with David to make this happen because they wanted  a school closer to them so their children would not have to walk so far to another school. At this point, the school is one room, with a dirt floor and tin for walls halfway up the side.  They hung plastic from the top to meet the tin walls, which can be pulled up to allow sunshine in or put down to keep the rain out of the school.  There were 30 children at this school, preschool to 14 years of age.  Again, the children were so excited to have us visit and seemed to understand the concept of oral care.  We again applied fluoride varnish after a dental hygiene lesson, then the children enjoyed face painting and new soft scarves.  We also had oranges for the children.  They had no back-packs or bags to put their things in, so they stuffed their pockets with the oranges and new toothbrush, and walked up the mountainside to get ashes for Ash Wednesday.

Our wonderful drivers returned to Huehuetenanga for dinner with the local Rotarians. It was an amazing day!  The teachers and children were so appreciative.  There were also some parents at the schools, who were very gracious as well.  One of the teachers said that in his 12 years of teaching in this school, no group came to actually visit them and spend time with them.  Wyoming Rotarians have provided a grant for latrines in this area, so the schools do have latrines to use.  The local Rotarians need just $5,000 to build an actual building for the third school we visited.  That is not much money to make an very huge impact.

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