100,000 children around the world are smiling BIG
A little girl in Guatemala became Global Dental Relief’s 100,000th patient a few weeks ago marking a major milestone for the group. As you know, Global Dental Relief (GDR) holds a special place in our heart. We’ve been a corporate sponsor since 2011 and have helped the organization set up clinics around the world bringing dental care to children in remote parts children who otherwise would never have the opportunity to see a dentist.
We sat down with one of the founders, Laurie Mathews, to talk about the charity that she helped start so many years ago in 2001, the children they care for into their teens, their valued network of volunteers that sign up again and again, and our amazing partnership. In August, we donated 10 percent of every light and mirror sale to their effort and in just 31 days we were able to raise $50,000.
Are you still reeling from the news?
It’s definitely a milestone and one that we never dreamed of especially in the early years. Truly, 100,000 children?! It’s still sinking in.
The clinic was in Guatemala?
Yes, in a local village called San Martin Jilotepeque. We treated children from five nearby schools that week, close to 800 mouths.
Wow, in five days? That must require an army of volunteers?
Four dentists, three hygienists and 12 volunteers helped move the children through stations. They’re really critical in managing the process and ensuring everything runs smoothly.
We hear two very special volunteers worked that clinic?
You heard right. Marilyn and Jennifer Miller were with us and they actually treated our 100,000th child. The mother/daughter duo volunteered first back in 2013 in Nepal. Marilyn is a hygienist and Jennifer is a dentist. They’re from Columbus, Ohio and actually discovered our organization while shopping your store at Polaris Towne Center. I love sharing that story! (Coming soon to the blog: A conversation with Jennifer and Marilyn about their experiences around the world with GDR.)
How many active volunteers do you have now?
In 2015 we have 16 clinics on the schedule and will be joined by 243 volunteers. Once you come on one of these trips, it’s likely you’ll return for another clinic. It’s so rewarding and the children are an inspiration. About 40 percent of our volunteers each year return for a second, third or fourth time.
Are your volunteers mostly from the U.S.?
They come from as far away as Great Britain, Europe and Australia and of course, a lot are from the states. At the clinic in Guatemala we had a lot of students who were off for the summer and in their second or third year of dental school. It’s really great experience.
Tell us about your 100,000th child?
Alejandra is seven years old and a first grader. She and her family live in the village of San Martin Jilotepeque. Alejandra has two brothers and sisters, and her family runs a small store in the village.
Although Alejandra has had significant dental pain from decaying primary teeth, she has never had the chance to see a dentist. On her first clinic visit, she had two teeth extracted, two permanent teeth filled, and a cleaning. Our volunteers were delighted to restore her beautiful smile, and give her a chance for a pain free future. Plus, she left with a new toothbrush.
Will you see her again?
We treat the same schools and orphanages every two years. So we hope we see her again in August 2017. The goal is to provide long-term care to these children, and education to ensure a healthy smile for life.
Do you have a lot of “repeat” volunteers like Marilyn and Jennifer?
We do, but we’re always looking for more. They sign up because they love caring for these children and seeing their big smiles after they’ve been treated. These children can’t wait to see the dentist. They’re so excited! And our volunteers like seeing the same kids and seeing how far they’ve come with their dental care after each clinic. It’s really incredible. We’re able to really teach them the value of taking care of their teeth and gums, and they do.
I’m sure you hear a lot of stories from volunteers on these trips. What’s the most memorable?
Well, in Guatemala one of our volunteers had been there with our clinic three times over the past five years and he’s seen the same boy on each visit. The first time this little boy needed several fillings and an extraction. Two years later when we returned he only needed two small restorations. And last month, he only needed a cleaning and a fluoride varnish.
How many volunteers do you typically have at a clinic?
We need four to five dentists, two to three hygienists and at least eight volunteers to help us manage the clinic, and provide fluoride treatments, handout toothbrushes and help us educate the kids about brushing their teeth and how to do it right.
We usually have more than enough professional volunteers [dentists and hygienists]. It’s the folks like you and me that we really need more of.
How can someone sign up to volunteer?
We have you complete an application and provide us with a copy of your passport and credentials if you’re a licensed dentist or hygienist. So there is some paperwork, but for the most part it’s standard and easy.
Join GDR and help Laurie and her team provide much-needed dental care to the children of Kenya, Cambodia, India, Nepal and Guatemala. What better way to see the world than working to improve the lives of children in need.