It's too cold and too early. On the way here our van became stuck in the mud and we had to push it out. We have taken over a tiny mud brick school room. We are lucky, we have a bare light bulb hanging on a rusty wire, two rickety wooden chairs and my head doesn't quite hit the ceiling beams. My younger daughter Bailey is outside teaching dental hygiene in Spanish to groups of children and adults, many of whom have never owned a toothbrush. My older daughter Zoe is assisting me and translating as my wife Juliet is "sterilizing" dental tools and tending to post-op care. I am extracting painfully abscessed teeth as quickly as I can. I have a long line of patients snaking out the door. A llama wanders by, the sun is breaking through the clouds and the mountains are stunning. We will be at it all day and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
I had a plan. Study hard, graduate from dental school and work hard. I would build a successful dental practice, travel, enjoy life and live for myself.
Life, however, had a different plan. I married Juliet when I was 34 and two daughters soon followed. My old plan of living for myself was laughable when I became a parent.
In order to give our daughters a better understanding of other people and their cultures, we began traveling around the world on school breaks and during the summers. By their teenage years, observing other cultures was not enough, we had to become involved, become part of a community and serve.
We decided that dentristry was how we could give something back.There were countless opportunities for me, as a dentist, to volunteer; but only Globe Aware would allow us to have our kids actually working side by side as a family.
We chose Cusco and have been back every year for 4 years. My entire office gets involved in gathering donated toothpaste, toothbrushes from Colgate and dental supplies. We carry in all our equipment and bring in our own "backpack" dental clinic to tiny, remote villages. Each year our outreach grows touching more communities. Last year we saw nearly 400 patients in 4 clinic days. The people we see receive no dental or medical care. If they have a toothache, they may live with excruciating pain for a lifetime. Most kindergardeners have molars decayed all the way to the gum line. People still die from dental infections in these tiny Quechuan villages. I am humbled by them.
As our project has grown, we are creating and funding a year round dental hygiene program for the villages and will be providing toothpaste and toothbrushes for distribution. We are reaching out to local dentists in Cusco to join us.
What began as a 1 week project has morphed into a year round process of planning and execution. We have had so much support from our adopted Peruvian 'family' in Cusco, and this project could have never gotten off the ground without the tireless effort of our Globe Aware coordinator and dear friend, Rocio Enriquez.
For our family, helping people IS having fun! - Rob Underill, March 2012