August 21, 2017

FELLOWS IN ACTION
MISSION TO GUATEMALA

It conjures up visions of Sisyphus to learn of the persistence and energy of Fellow T. Bob Davis and his journey into the world of dental volunteerism. It is a  journey that began in 1977 when his wife, Janis encouraged him to volunteer to participate in a dental mission to Matamoros, Mexico where youngsters in a Children’s Home were in need of dental care. Large groups of volunteers soon joined Dr. Davis on those annual missions, but sadly, after thirty-four years of volunteerism the drug cartels made the area so dangerous that a new locale had to be found.

After a one year search, Guatemala was chosen as that new location. Here, 820 children and a few adults have thus far received dental care. The program involves exposing dental students to international volunteerism. As they come from two different schools they do not know each other. They are introduced to the working environment and mixed together as partners to accomplish chairside duties. They mingle together at meals and travel together on buses for a day of rest and recovery at mid-week. They play soccer together and then are even challenged by the local town’s soccer team. It is a time of sharing their lives with others who will one day be colleagues and even Fellows in organizations like the International College of Dentists.

This is an excellent time for both mentoring and to be mentored. Most of it happens unconsciously throughout the week by the interaction between seasoned doctors, staff and students. The skill and training of the doctors ensure a safe and comfortable experience for the patients even in the unknown world of portable dentistry.

The students are away from the stress of school life and their everyday problems. They take a breath of fresh air during their spring break week. They see people from a whole different perspective and consider how fortunate they are to be doing what they have been allowed to do as professional students. It is a time to tell your life story, to hear those of others, and to be aware of the little bits of wisdom one realizes in these moments. Lifestyles can change. Enlightenment achieved. Leaps of introspection are often experienced on mission trips.

But there is also much practical hard work both in preparing for and participating in the project. The students must plan ahead for supplies, decide what to bring, make passport arrangements, pass through airport security, travel with the group, get supplies checked on and off the plane, stay on schedule, travel on old worn buses, work hard, play hard, get along on too little sleep, quickly learn the protocol of makeshift dentistry, work in uncomfortable positions, and put up with the idiosyncrasies of fellow volunteers like snoring, whistling, or complaining.

How bad can it get? Dr. Davis says “that in countries where the EPA has not yet arrived, one might breathe dust and smoke on unmanaged bad roads that are windy and bumpy for hours while holding on to your seat. This is not for the faint of heart or those who must have all the physical comforts. It is for the adventuresome, for the givers, and the mature who see life as an opportunity to excel while outside their comfort zone. It is for the likes of heroes of the past who made the world a better place. It is for those who enjoy the fruits of their own labor and the challenges of their minds, hearts and bodies.

“There is joy in seeing others smile after a visit to the dentist, maybe their first visit to the dentist, their first encounter with such pristine young people whose selflessness and joy are contagious, whose eyes and smile warm the hearts and minds of young growing children who otherwise see little hope for their future. It IS life-changing for everyone involved!!!! Have you been there? Done that? Hope so.”

In recent years, Dr. T. Bob Davis has served to provide the musical entertainment on the piano at the ICD USA Section Convocations. He has been a Fellow of the ICD since 1988.

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