In May of last year, 17 Arizona State University students joined 16 Texas Tech students for a seven-day excursion to a rural community in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I had the privilege of be involved in this expedition thanks to the Arizona State University Chapter of Global Brigades, the largest student led international non-profit organization that promotes health, wellness and economic stability to under-resourced communities. Our mission was to provide a holistic-model approach to help the community meet developmental goals to self-sustain and thrive on all levels. This model implements resource programs including business, dental, environmental, human rights, medical, microfinance, public health and water missions. This opportunity gave us the chance to immerse ourselves into a new culture and experience a different way of life.
During our time in Honduras, a mobile medical-dental unit was assembled at Tegucigalpa’s local elementary school. It was there that we had the opportunity to shadow and assist licensed medical and dental professionals. Each classroom provided a specific service, including in-take, triage, consultation, dental, pharmaceutical, gynecology and data informatics for statistical analysis. Although dentistry was my primary focus, it was wonderful to be allowed the opportunity to rotate and practice within each specialty. Working in the other stations allowed me to witness the importance that maintaining oral health has on an individual’s overall well-being. Unfortunately, due to a lack of education and deficit of resources, the majority of the community had serious untreated medical conditions that could have otherwise been prevented. Our goal was to not only provide immediate care, but also to educate in order to make a lifelong impact. We spent time within the community, teaching them the proper way to brush and floss their teeth, as many of them had never learned. We created an enjoyable learning environment by utilizing interactive games and songs. Over the course of three days in the clinic, we were able to provide services to 755 patients, averaging 250 patients a day!
The second aspect of the mission was to focus on the community’s wellness. While I’ve always generally understood the idea of poverty, witnessing the strenuous type of life first-hand cannot compare to any textbook description I have ever read. In the United States, there are many resources abundantly available that I feel many of us take for granted. We don’t always take the time to realize that not everyone has access to clean drinking water, safe food to eat, long-lasting and durable homes with showers, toilets and proper ventilation. Inhabitants of first-world countries are not accustomed to infrastructure, a stable economy, job availability, homes with concrete flooring rather than soil, and the ability to pursue an education. Global Brigades aims to minimize this gap by providing a public health initiative to help address and resolve these issues, so that ultimately the communities can be successful on their own.
It was remarkable to see how members of this community were some of the most positive, optimistic and genuinely resourceful individuals I have ever met, despite the harsh lifestyle they endured. From children playing soccer with a soda can, to families of ten sharing the same single toothbrush, to having the whole community volunteer to help us in any way they could, the generosity of a community with so little never ceased to amaze me. Even being in a country with a tremendous language barrier, it was so humbling to discover that love really is the universal language.
Nearing the end of the Brigade, we reflected on our time spent in the community, and one of the medical providers said, “At the end of the day, it is important to ask yourself, do you simply love, or do you love to serve others? Medicine is a service of giving back that has no ceiling, no act is too big or too small. Be the example and change you wish to see in the world.”
I always knew that I wanted to pursue a career in dentistry, but being a part of an experience that allowed me to be involved in something bigger than myself, such as Global Brigades, really showed me the true meaning of perseverance. All 33 of us knew that this trip would leave a long lasting impact on the community members we had the opportunity to serve, but there is no way we could even begin to imagine the magnitude of what mark this would leave on us. If I could offer one piece of advice to dental students, it would be to give back to your community in any way you can. Through Global Brigades, I found that gaining knowledge and experience in the dental field by stepping outside of my comfort zone proved to be the most unexpectedly rewarding approach.
~Devyn Michelotti, predental