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A mission that had bite

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There was little running water, and they faced a shortage of clean drinking water. They had to deal with the sparse availability of toilets, showering with cockroaches and being awakened by roosters every morning.

Would they go back again? Of course, they say.

honduras dental photo

"They" are a small group of PCC dental hygiene students and faculty who all joined forces with Northwest Medical Teams for a trip to Central America last spring. Their mission was to help poor children get the dental care they needed. In total, the group served 257 kids, care worth around $85,000. With the help of three Peace Corps translators, the students spent four and a half long days, eight hours a day, working on the kids, many of whom have never seen a dentist.

"The reason we went was because people there don’t have access to dental care," said student Tasha Kendall. "The village we went to didn’t have a dentist and the nearest one is a few hours away by car, and most people there don’t have cars. There was so much need, that we couldn’t do all that was needed and some we had to leave with their care half done."

The group included students Kendall, Cam Saki, April Cherney, Anna La, Harry Adams and Janie Strickland. Past student Cara Kao-Young, Interim Director of the Dental Programs Josette Beach and one volunteer dentist, David Hernandez, also went. Besides themselves, the group also had to ship 20 bags of supplies, like suction units and drills, and a portable dental chair to the village with them. They also had to use flashlights and deal with the lack of an x-ray machine.

"We didn’t stop until we dropped." Adams said.

The students felt so strongly about the Honduras trip that they plan to make it a yearly class event to check up on the children and provide more services. This was the third year in a row that dental hygiene students have gone abroad with Northwest Medical Teams to help poor youth and families. The last two trips were to Cambodia and to Romania, respectively.

children brushing teeth"We want to go next year, too," said Anna La. "We know we’re helping. I want to go back and see the results. Besides the dental care, there was a lot of education too, showing them how to take care of their teeth, and we want to see if they are doing the preventative care we asked them to do."

The job was a tough one. One child they saw had 10 infected teeth and most had to come out. "We’d put 25 kids at a time through a screening process, cleaning and pulling teeth. We saw some severe decay," said Adams. "So many people with a need walked in. We wanted to do something."

"They got in if we saw them in pain," added Strickland.

"Unfortunately, the mom’s would catch on and soon teach their kids to look like they had pain just so they could get care," Cherney said.

Despite the conditions of their accommodations and the village, the students were thrilled to have helped and sad to have left.

"It was kind of addictive," said La. "We were always wishing we could see more children. We feel there is much more to do. I was a refugee and this was an opportunity to give back. I always wanted to join Northwest Medical Teams and I always want to do more. It’s pay back for me."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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