This is a description of our journey as dentists to the Dominican Republic with the Pujols Family Foundation's first Operation Smile. It is difficult to put this experience into words but we would like very much to share our experience with everyone. This trip was initiated in May of 2006 based on Mrs. Pujols' vision of providing dental care for children in the Dominican Republic who have never seen a dentist. We put a dental group together consisting of two pediatric dentists, two general dentists, one oral surgeon and one bi-lingual dental assistant. The next step was to get the necessary dental equipment and supplies together. Mrs. Pujols generously purchased two complete portable dental units (chairs, lights, drill carts, compressors, vacuum systems, etc.) at the cost of about $10,000 for this trip. We were able secure the dental supplies by donations from the traveling dentists on this team and dental supply companies which translated to about $7,500. In the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. Pujols were working hard to make the necessary arrangements with local organizers in the Dominican Republic. For example, the reality of whether or not there was running water and electricity was questionable in the villages that we were going to visit. This required numerous phone calls and a trip in August to the Dominican Republic by Mrs. Pujols in order to make the needed arrangements with the local organizers. We were nervous as we got closer to the departure date of January 14, 2007 and were concerned about our ability to provide good dental care. In dentistry, there are so many different instruments, materials, agents, and supplies that are needed to provide proper dental treatment and there is no Super Wal-Mart in the Dominican Republic for us to run to and buy whatever we were missing! We had a dry run with our equipment and supplies and packed for the worst and hoped for the best!
Once we arrived in the D/R, Mrs. Pujols was waiting for us at the airport with a small bus to take us to our hotel. It was good to see a familiar face. We met the local organizers that Mrs. Pujols had been working with for the past six months. We had dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Pujols that evening and Mrs. Pujols went over our itinerary for the next day, January 15th. It became part of our routine to have dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Pujols each night to go over what we had accomplished that day and have a game plan for the next day.
Our days usually started before dawn when the bus would leave the hotel and return back to the Pujols' house by about 7:30 p.m. for dinner. Both Mr. and Mrs. Pujols went out with us as early as 5 a.m. to these villages. They did not have the attitude "you guys go ahead and we will catch up with you later"! In fact, on Mr. Pujols' birthday, he began the day before 5 a.m. and did whatever was needed to help our team provide dentistry to the children in the village. On these trips, Mrs. Pujols ran our sterilization department for us. We were seeing an average of 162 patients per day and Mrs. Pujols made sure that we had a constant flow of sterilized instruments for our patients. She worked as hard as any one else on this trip. Each child received home oral hygiene instruction, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and written instructions about oral health. It was their first exposure to dental care. Every day, Mr. Pujols was there to help us communicate with children and comfort them with their upcoming dental treatment. He made sure that we had everything that was needed and even missed going to the White House so that he could help. This was truly a team effort.
We would also like to thank Compassion International, whose workers were there to help facilitate our efforts. It wouldn't have been possible to reach so many children without their help.
A Few Noteworthy Points About the Trip:
1. Children-They just wanted to play and
be happy and they appreciated everything they received. With no X-Box or PS2
games and questionable electricity, they were able to get along with each other.
Life is very simple in the D/R.
2. Parents- Their biggest objective is to make it through another day, fulfilling their parental responsibilities by providing for their children. They were very grateful for what we were privileged to do for their children.
3. Compassion and tolerance toward their fellow man was one of the treasures I picked up in the D/R. I am forever grateful for this.
4. Poverty and disease do not recognize the boundaries we call borders on the maps. Just because we do not see it in our neighborhood does not mean that it doesn't exist. This is an international condition and not limited to a specific geographic area. We all had seen pictures demonstrating the poverty that people suffer from, but it was a different experience when we saw it firsthand. With pictures, we cannot make the personal connection that our trip enabled us to make.
5. We found both Mr. and Mrs. Pujols truly committed to their cause and they are very kind and generous human beings. We are grateful that they included us in this worthy project.
6. Most importantly, LOVE. LOVE made us achieve our goal. This LOVE brought people of different faiths (Christian, Jewish and Moslem faiths) together to make a difference. I wish there was more LOVE in this world so we can treat each other like human beings. It's such a wonderful thing to witness the power of love in action amongst these seemingly forgotten children in great need. After all, God not only asks us but He commands us to love one another - especially "the least of these".
In conclusion we saw first-hand how this love
that binds all of the humanity together allowed us to touch many lives and be
touched in return. We realize that we have received much more from this
experience through the infinite generosity of love than we were able to give. We
wish that all of us would allow this love to flow through our actions on a daily
basis. We would all be better for it.
We all look forward to our next year's trip.
Submitted by: Dr. Mark Fernandez, Dr. Mike Noble, Dr. Cindy Nouri, Dr. Homer Sedighi, Dr. Richard Snitzer