On Wednesday Ryan and I had the opportunity to go with a dental team to a small village way out in the middle of nowhere. In order to get there, we had to drive about an hour and a half, then turn off the main road onto a bumpy, rocky dirt road and go several miles further, eventually arriving in a small community along the ocean-side. We set up in a little building they called the Community Center – two dental chairs, two small generators for power, folding chairs, lots of tools and gauze pads and stuff that I had no idea what it was for.
People started showing up as soon as they saw us arrive – some with dental problems and some just curious and fascinated to see what was going on. Because of time restraints, the team set 45 as the number of patients they could see. In order to get in, they had to pay 10 gouds (25 cents) and show their “receipt.” (To give you an idea, a good wage in Haiti is about $5 per day if you are lucky enough to have a job.)
My job was crowd control – keeping everyone from flooding in the building, especially people who didn’t have a receipt. All day long a huge group of people waited outside, standing in the hot weather, packed tightly together just to see what was going on and hoping they could get in. Haitians can be very loud, so over and over again we tried to tell them to quiet down and back away from the doors, as it was so hot inside already and more people meant more heat. At one point some kind of fight broke out, and there was rock throwing and yelling, and who knows what else. A bit of mid-afternoon excitement, I guess.
One by one the people came in either for a cleaning or for surgery. The majority of the people had a tooth/several teeth that were long past being a cavity and needing a filling, and just needed to be pulled. I am too wimpy to watch up close, but caught glimpses of the dentists yanking teeth from side to side, digging and trying to get them out. The Haitian people are amazingly strong, and I didn’t hear one person complain or yell or anything. They just sat there with their mouths open thankful for the help. One lady got both of her front teeth pulled – imagine that!
All morning when we said they had to pay, only adults came to see us – not one of their kids. After the dentists got through the 45 patients, we then said that we’d take about 40 kids and do fluoride treatments for free. Wow, did the kids arrive out of nowhere as soon as the parents heard. It was so fascinating that not one parent would pay for a child to come. Made me realize how much I don’t understand about Haitian culture.
The kicker for me was seeing the children and the ratty old clothes they were wearing. I had not seen a community this poor until that day. Some of the kids were coming with literally only a shirt on – sitting in the chair to see the dentist with a naked bottom. That would be unfathomable in America. But as you hear over and over again about poor countries, they are rich in joy and friendship and laughter, and there was no self-pity or begging. It was just how life is and they don’t know any differently.
After a long day, we had to pack up and drive back to the city. There was still a crowd of people outside wanting to get in, but sadly we had to say no, we just couldn’t stay any longer. What a blessing it was to have this highly skilled team of dentists volunteer their time and energy and resources to help out strangers in another country. They alleviated pain that those people have probably been dealing with for years and years. I was thankful to be a part of the experience, and blessed to meet the people and share in their joy.