One of my favorite days from my trip to San Marcos last year was the morning that we spent at a local school teaching about oral hygiene and distributing toothbrushes. When it was announced that we would be visiting another school this year, I jumped at the chance to be part of the team that went.
A small group of us: Randy, Helena, Lauren, Bill, Nicole, Linda, and two of the soldiers and I boarded our truck to head up the road on Tuesday morning to the Isletas school. I think that it was my first time riding in the back of a truck, so I have to admit even that part was pretty fun :). The truck would only take us so far; the rest of the way we had to hike up a dirt path.
Upon our arrival at the school, there was a buzz of excitement among the students. Last year, the students the San Marcos Abajo school had assembled in the main yard for our presentation, but this day we learned that the Isletas students had a performance planned for us. We were seated on a raised platform in the courtyard of the school while the students sang, performed a drum line, and even acted out a little song for us.
One older boy stood out as sort of an elder statesman of the school. He was one of the lead drummers in the drum line and was the boy chosen to perform the courting song for us. During the drumming, he coolly put on a pair of sunglasses, and after the performances, he came up to me to shake my hand and ask my name. He also arranged a small group of boys to accompany us part of the way back down to the truck afterwards. I am confident that he is on his way to becoming mayor or president or something!
Then came time for our presentation. With an interpreter for time’s sake, I introduced myself and said that I was a dentist. I asked the students, “Who can tell me what a dentist does?” It broke my heart to hear one boy yell, “Saca los dientes! (You pull teeth!)” Back at home, when I ask this question, most kids will answer “You clean teeth.” This is how different the expectations are between these two populations. I tried to segue that into something more positive by saying that yes, dentists do extract teeth, but we clean and fill them and try to keep them healthy so we don’t have to pull them. So we talked about brushing twice a day (I was nudged that I shouldn’t add “with toothpaste” because many of these kids don’t have that) and limiting sugary foods, which is another huge problem. Lauren then spoke about proper hygiene: handwashing before and after eating, after using the toilet, etc.
And then the anticipated event arrived: the distribution of new toothbrushes! We dotted each brush with a little bit of fluoride (a million thanks to Kathy Gentile at VOCO for the donated Remin Pro!!!!) and had the kids apply it and brush for one minute. Any kid would love to be able to spit enthusiastically with the full blessing of all adults present, so they had a ball with this:
Once we were done, the staff had a surprise for us: a handmade necklace for each team member. The kids had gathered the natural materials themselves.
We headed back to the truck and San Marcos in the hopes that some of our message would make an impact and that maybe the CapeCARES dental clinic will have a few fewer patients next year.