“Stone Soup,” A Community Effort For Dental Health

One of my favorite children’s stories is Stone Soup. It is a tale of a man who gathers the community for a wonderful soup. He starts out with a stone and needs “just a little something more” from each and every person who arrives to partake. In the end, the entire group contributes to the soup and it is, in fact, a feast.

Such was the experience during the dental care, education and training program that occurred during the last weekend in May. It began with a partnership between Tabasamu, a Bucks County, Pennsylvania based non-profit focused on free dental care and education and LAMP, a Philadelphia based non-profit committed to health care in Cite Soleil. LAMP identified a site to provide a three-day program of dental care, education and teacher training- the Becky Dewine School of Hands Together, a Catholic holistic initiative for children in the Brae Neuf section of Cite Soleil.

This triad was exciting enough. However, in the course of planning the weekend extravaganza, several Haitian dentists expressed interested and sacrificed one or more days of work to participate in the program. 8 Haitian dentists, representing LAMP, Partners in Health and private practice, not only gave their time and talent, they pooled their instruments, equipment and supplies to make the clinic day come to fruition. With only 500 dentists serving 8 million citizens in Haiti, it was no surprise that they knew each other and looked forward to working together.

The Tabasamu team arrived mid-day on Thursday, grabbed lunch and headed to Hands Together for a team orientation. 15 lay and skilled American and Haitian volunteers gathered in the school library to strategize the best way to proceed with the combination clinic and dental education program the next day. All the dentists wanted to be a part of the clinic and were willing to take turns between providing dental care and dental education. The dental education team, known as ”Tooth Tour”, decided to rehearse early on Friday morning, leaving the rest of Thursday to set up the clinic operatories.

There are always unexpected twists and turns in health care mission work. The most consistent challenge is to be assured that you have all the instruments necessary and that all equipment is in perfect working order. On Thursday afternoon, we determined that neither was the case. The shortage of instruments and supplies was easy to resolve. The dentists in attendance immediately offered to bring more items the next day and provided me with a list of things that they did not have for me to text to another dentists (Believe me, texting a list of dental instruments with code numbers and quantities is no easy task!)

On Friday morning, we were met by 150 patients hoping to have their needs addressed. It was soon determined that the drill cart was not in working condition. The clinic team decided to focus on extractions and cleanings. Seven dentists worked through the day, some alternating treatments and even rotating between the clinic and the Tooth Tour.

While the clinic occurred, three members of the Tabasamu team made dental education presentations to individual classrooms and larger groups. All the students said that they brushed their teeth two times a day. Tabasamu had agreed to cover the cost of two students per class who required immediate care, in all probability an extraction. In almost all cases, Gary Rabinowitz found that the 6-year molars had been destroyed over the course of time due to poor dental hygiene and diet. This is the same phenomenon that is seen in Kenya.

The Tooth Tour circuit was foreshortened by virtue of the length of the school day. Once the students went home, the dental education team worked with the clinic to move them through the rest of their patients and clean up. Despite a number of challenges, all patients had been seen and the day had gone quite well.

Saturday morning brought the inauguration of T3- “Teach The Teachers”. A concept fashioned by Gary Rabinowitz and a Kenyan community leader, James Korir, this trip to Haiti was the first opportunity to put it into practice. Once the Tabasamu team was ready to begin, I gathered all the participants into the common room. Though teachers from the Becky Divine School had been expected, it initially appeared as though only the clinic volunteers from the previous day had come. I could tell that the group was disappointed and made one more sweep of the halls. I found a teacher and confirmed that it was time to begin. He disappeared down a set of stairs and promptly returned with approximately 30 teachers. It was an emotional moment to say the least. The classroom was now filled with dental professions and educators ready to learn more about dental care and how to share it in the larger community.

The team decided to conduct the first two segments, the introduction and puppet show, with the entire group. The participants were then asked to count off into three groups. Each group went to three modules on rotation- 1. An introduction to dental education; 2. Puppet making and a demonstration of disclosing plaque and scaling; and 3. The study of the tooth, oral disease and decay. Altogether the program ran three hours.

At the conclusion of the morning, everyone gathered in the common space again. Questions were fielded and then each participant received a certificate and Tabasamu t-shirt. It was quite moving to see each person presented with their certificate and shirt and proudly and gratefully shook the hands of each member of the leadership team.

Once everything was packed up, the volunteer team headed for a special appreciation lunch. Despite the three long days, the spirit remained high and the private dining room was filled with conversation and laughter. In true African tradition, each person spoke during the lunch, offering thanks for the opportunity to work together and expressing hope for an opportunity to continue the work together. It was the perfect end to a remarkable and memorable partnership in dental care and education.

Saturday afternoon and evening, the Tabasamu team spent time reflecting on the previous three days- lessons learned, the joys of new friendships and dreams and aspirations for what might occur in the future. What may have started as a one-time visit during a Tabasamu member’s one year residence in Haiti, evolved into a transformative experience that may well prompt an extension of the mission and vision of the organization. Heartfelt thanks to Trey, Otho, Gary and Lisa for coming, and profound appreciation for the abundance received by the American team from our Haitian brothers and sisters.

An important postscript….Many thanks to the “behind the scenes queens”, Evenlyn Pantuso and Tonia Richard, for their tireless support of this initiative and all Tabasamu’s projects. In particular, heartfelt appreciation to Evelyn for burning the midnight oil to create thre new sets of Tooth Tour puppets. You are amazing!

Deep gratitiude to Yves Augustin for his beautiful translation of all the dental education materials that are being used in Haiti. Yves, you are helping to spread the important message of dental care across the country. Thank you!!

Reflections provided by Dr. Joey Prosper of LAMP
I was very pleased with the level of dedication and professionalism of the doctors of TABASAMU and also the Haitian doctors. On behalf of LAMP for Haiti, I would like to thank and congratulate the members of TABASAMU on their humanitarian sense and vision for such a project. Of course, this was a first time experience with LAMP and there are things that could be done the next time to make it even more successful. One of the things is to have the local medical staff make some advance arrangements and plans for the benefit of the patients, since they share the same profession and know the environment. And we hope that coming to Haiti will become part TABASAMU’s program as it is in Kenya. Personally, I want to change the date of my trip to Uganda and Kenya to the same time that the members of Tabasamu will be working there. I also want to thank Kyle over and over again for been such wonderful person.

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