A group of American and Canadian ex-patriots once found a beautiful, but poor fishing village in Mexico and chose to live half the year there. They wanted to give back to this community that gave them the chance to live in such beautiful surroundings. So they teamed up with Project Stretch to build and run a dental clinic for the community.
Now, our students and alumni go to Teacapan, Mexico, at least twice a year on international elective externships.
Europa Yang DMD 13 went with President and founding board member of Project Stretch, Dr. John Ficarellifrom February 23 to March 2, 2013. Andy Brito, Michael Donovan, Parsia Koleini, and Jenny Lorenzo volunteered in the same pediatric clinic from March 2 to 10 with supervisors Frank Schiano CAS 01, DMD 06, AEGD 07 and Ismael Montane DMD 10, AEGD 11.
“The group this year was fantastic,” says Dr. Schiano. “We all worked almost non-stop throughout the week, treating as many children as we possibly could. I was extremely pleased with the teamwork from our students. Because of their hard work, we were able to provide a record number of treatments to the children. The volunteers in Teacapan are very grateful for our students’ efforts.”
Yang had attended Project Stretch meetings and helped raise money for the organization a year and a half before she entered dental school. She shadowed Dr. Ficarelli to determine if she wanted to pursue dentistry. (She did, of course!) While at GSDM, she completed her APEX rotation in Dr. Ficarelli’s Brookline practice.
“But when the time came, she didn’t apply for this externship!” says Assistant Professor Kathy Held. Yang apologizes, noting, “It was a very busy time.”
Held says, “She had been an active part of Project Stretch. The team was already full, but Dr. Ficarelli was going the week before and I knew he would find room on his team for Europa.”
Yang, Ficarelli, and the rest of the volunteers saw 500 children in one week. Yang was thrilled to gain experience working with children. She will begin a residency in pediatric dentistry at Lutheran LMC in Holyoke, Massachusetts, this year.
Koleini says that during their week, his team members did very few extractions because the advanced dental equipment at the clinic allowed them to focus on restorations. Project Stretch recently received a donation of a Panoramic X-ray machine; the organization is now working on getting it to Mexico.
Yang adds that the children’s teeth are improving due to Project Stretch’s ongoing effort in the area. “Many of these children have four or five years of records at this clinic,” she says. “The volunteers are seeing improvements and less need for extractions. We would see a restoration from years ago that is still arresting caries.”
Oral health education helps, too. Upon arrival at the clinic, students take a class on proper tooth brushing. Preceptors Schiano and Montane also go to the local school one day during the trip to give a presentation on oral health. The town recently prohibited candy sellers from selling within schools, where many shop owners made their livings.
That said, volunteers were still motivated to work hard and fast. Koleini says, “If you don’t finish the work, the child may not see another dentist for 365 days, so that puts a lot of pressure on you.”
Many adults in the area are migrant workers. Children more than 11 years old are permitted to work in the fields with their parents; those who are younger stay home alone. Five- and six-year-olds regularly came to the clinic alone during the two weeks GSDM students were there.
Despite the enormous responsibility on these youngsters, they’re still normal children. They exploded in cheers when volunteers gave out what Koleini estimates to be 600 toys they brought with them to Mexico. Volunteers also brought hundreds of toothbrushes and toothpaste, for which the children clamored as volunteers drove into town. They brought peanut butter to make nutritious sandwiches for the children, who sometimes have little to eat.
Lorenzo says, ”I’m from the Dominican Republic and I’ve seen poverty there, but I’ve never been able to help. Now that I have this talent, that’s what made this trip so much better. I’m so happy and appreciative that I can help.”
Schiano adds, “I would like to thank Dr. Montane for his annual commitment to this mission, and certainly the GSDM Alumni Association for its continued support of these international elective externship experiences for our students.”