Tuesday, October 15, 2013


This long weekend I had the great pleasure of working with the Tabasamu Team on their Dental Mission in the Central Plateau in Haiti. Tabasamu, the Swahili word for Smile, was originally founded as a clinical dental mission to Kenya. The leaders of the organization came to realize in time, however, that they could reach many more people more effectively by educating thousands. They want people to stop thinking about dental care as a luxury and rather as a medical necessity. Tabasamu grew out of my church in Pennsylvania and I have heard about it for many years, so it was a pleasure to finally get to be a part of it and to see some familiar faces!

On the first day, we split into 3 groups and went to visit schools on “Tooth Tours.” My group alone was able to educate over 1200 students, teachers, and community members! Each group had a Haitian dentist who volunteered to spend the weekend with us and who did most of the speaking and translating. I played the role of the toothbrush in the puppet show in what was hailed as “The best rendition of the tooth tour that the world has ever seen” by one critic. After the puppet show, the dentist explained proper brushing technique, the importance of flossing, and the symptoms of tooth problems. We did a flossing demonstration and then gave each student a toothbrush. It was tons of fun. I think the highlight of my day was when we were getting ready to leave a school, I started talking to this small group of little girls. We started singing “head shoulders knees and toes.” Suddenly I had a mob of what felt like approximately 200 children around me and I just had to keep coming up with songs, for fear that they would attack!

 They were in the process of rebuilding the road up to our first school... there is no "easy trip" in Haiti! 
 Students leaving their schoolhouse: all of the levels are in the same sweltering room! Fortunately, they are in the process of building a new school here! 
 Handing out toothbrushes! 
 More toothbrushes! 

 Kids climbing at the window to see our presentation at the second school! We arrived at the third school after the school day ended: kids ran after our car to come back to school to see the presentation! 
 Kids at the second school with their toothbrushes! 

On our way back from the Tooth Tours on Friday, we stopped at the brand new Partners in Health Hospital in Mirbelais to drop off a young student we had found during the day with a terrible dental abscess to be seen by a dentist. Most of us who are interested in public health in developing nations are mildly obsessed with PIH: They have done incredible work controlling disease, reducing mortality, and working for the dignity of even the poorest patients. I felt like a 14 year old fan-girl walking into a One Direction concert when I walked through those doors! It was an incredible hospital, complete with a NICU and an ICU, ventilators, the only chemo ward in the country, pulse ox readers, a complete lab, and a dental clinic that our dentist was drooling over!

And then we tried to leave the hospital… and the bridge back to the highway had flooded. In the USA, this would have been a catastrophe that would have led to us calling in FEMA and news helicopters would have been circling overhead. In Haiti, it became a bit of a party with hundreds of people hanging out on both sides of the river: this apparently happens fairly frequently. The first brave souls to cross as the river level went down were cheered for like Olympic Athletes! 2.5 hours later, we made it across the bridge!  

Saturday was T3: Teach the Teachers. We gave 70 local teachers some more advanced dental education and information on more didactic teaching methods (Haitians usually only learn by straight memorization, aka they learn everything the way that we learn our times tables in the USA. This puts these students behind in their ability to think critically and engage issues.)  Each teacher had their brushing style critiqued by a dentist, had a fluoride varnish applied, and 3 lucky participants got to see just how much plaque was on their teeth!
Photo: Tabasamu had a successful full-day Teach the Teachers seminar at Partners in Health in Canges, Haiti where we sought to help the teachers improve their skills so that they can then help their students improve their oral health.
The taught teachers!

Sunday we took our tooth tour to church and then went back to Port au Prince for the Fete Artisinal, an artisan’s festival! There were so many fantastic things to look at. The main Haitian crafts are stone work, metalwork, brightly colored paintings, beading, and woodwork. It is all in a very unique style and absolutely gorgeous!
The most humorous Haitian art (Photo courtesy of Lindley!)

Monday morning we had the opportunity to tour Sean Penn’s NGO, JP H/RO. It is a truly fantastic operation that helped to move the tens of thousands displaced onto the Petionville Golf Course back into homes after the earthquake and also runs two tremendous medical operations. Tabasamu is looking to partner with them in the future. Their leadership was enthusiastic and great to work with! Afterwards, it was back to Leogane with me!

It was a fantastic weekend on so many levels, from being able to see some friends from home, make new friends, and do some very satisfying work! 
I also got to visit with my fellow YASCer Alan, who lives in Cange. Check out his blog here!

Plus, Cange is an absolutely stunning part of the country: it is incredibly mountainous and right on a reservoir. Here are pictures from Sunday’s sunrise yoga session! 
 Thanks again for the camera ABurd! 
 It was pretty. 
 Me at Lac Peligre on the infamous dam that provides a lot of energy for Haiti but impoverished many people in the process.  
... and then I saw peacocks in Port au Prince on my way home. I cannot tell you how out of place they looked. 

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