I believe giving back is in my nature. I realized many years ago that the best way for me to do so is by doing what I do best. In one fashion or another, I’ve been doing “mission dentistry” for as long as I have been in practice. Until April of 2014, my focus had been solely on a local level, working with local churches and associations, the North Carolina Mission of Mercy organization and with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry’s “Give Back A Smile” program providing dental care for those truly in need.
Throughout 2013, I felt a calling to do more, to include giving back on a more international level. Sharing this with a friend, he told me about Bless Back Worldwide. The premise of this organization is that we are all blessed with certain talents, gifts and resources. Bless Back serves to use these “blessings” by sending those involved on trips to help the oppressed and impoverished.
Bless Back Worldwide is made up entirely of volunteers who want to better the lives of those less fortunate. The people of Haiti definitely fall into this category. Haiti has traditionally been a poor country. In fact, it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. From a devastating earthquake in 2010, followed by a cholera outbreak 10 months later, and then Hurricane Sandy in 2012, it seems the people of Haiti just can’t catch a break.
To make matters worse, unemployment hovers around 80%. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that these people don’t want to work. On the contrary, when I am there it is not uncommon to see people doing and selling anything they can to make some money – money just to support and feed their families.
For most Haitians, the daily struggle is to find food and drinkable water. Healthcare is a luxury that few have access to or can afford. Dental care is even less accessible. The dental care we provide is somewhat basic, mostly extractions, fillings and cleanings but I know it impacts their quality of life.
Most of the people we treat are school age children. There are two patient encounters that particularly impacted me. The first was a young boy who had an abscessed tooth. No doubt he was unable to concentrate in school because of the obvious discomfort he was in. Removing that source of discomfort made a huge difference.
The second was a pretty teenage girl with multiple cavities in her front teeth. With dental care being so sporadic, I knew that if I didn’t repair those teeth – all of those teeth that day, she would stand a good chance of losing one or several of her front teeth. As you can imagine, the effect on her appearance and mental well-being would have been devastating.
I can’t help but think of children with poor dental health, already missing permanent teeth.
I am honored to play a small role in helping these people. It is difficult to verbalize my sense of joy and satisfaction in helping the Haitian people and to convey their genuine appreciation. ON my first trip, when I decided to forego a week’s “vacation” and go to Haiti, I expected nothing in return. I was willing and ready to give all I had – a one-way street – to help these people. But as I write this, I can honestly tell you that I received much more than I gave, including a new and better perspective on my life.
If you would like more information about Bless Back Worldwide or Mission of Hope International, please visit their websites at www.blessbackworldwide.org and www.mohintl.org. Both organizations can be found on Facebook as well.
I believe we are all blessed in some way. If we all looked to do something, even in a small way, to give back, it would make a difference – probably more than you would ever realize. All too often, I think we under-estimate how one kind gesture, a simple act of caring, can turn someone’s life around. Spending time in a third world country provided that kind of awakening for me.