NLDAA Dental Assistants in Haiti
I arrived in Haiti on January 14, 2012, along with ten other dental health care workers. My first impression of Haiti was the smell; the combination of diesel and burning garbage was not pleasant. Then you notice the friendly faces of the beautiful people of Haiti.
We were there as volunteers with the George Stines Foundation location in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. Dr. Alfred Stines who is a Haitian by birth but now resides in the US has built two dental clinics in Haiti; one attached to the home he grew up in and another in Bassin Blu, in the mountains north of Jacmal. Dr. Stines along with volunteers returns to Haiti five or six times a year providing free dental care to the locals.
Working conditions were definitely a challenge. I think it’s safe to say that for the first couple of days we were outside our comfort zone. There were frequent power outages, hand pieces or suctions mal-functioning; the Haitian assistants along with our own technician were kept busy ensuring the equipment was up and running. Infection control was questionable and sterilization limited. But we were there to offer our best to these people and we adapted quickly to the conditions and got the job done.
Our day started at 9 am and we would work thru to 2 pm. Patients would start lining up by 8 am and we would have to turn people away by the end of the day. They need dental care desperately and are so grateful and appreciative of our efforts. With such a high volume of patients we would take care of the most aggressive needs first and try to maintain the lesser need. We even created a little history on this trip; our dental technician, Dave Babcock of Henry Schein installed the first panoramic x-ray machine at the dental school in Port-au-Prince which was a very welcome piece of machinery! For a week we did fillings, extractions, root canals, prophys and fluoride applications at the clinic in Petionville and Bassin Bleu, at an elementary school we did dentistry working out of lawn chairs, plus two other schools.
The people of Haiti are beautiful, proud, hard-working people. There is evidence of rebuilding and most of the rubble has been cleared but Haiti still has a long way to go. They have suffered so much and need our help desperately. It was an honour to work alongside the Haitian people in providing this care. This was truly an amazing experience for me and I would highly recommend it to any health care worker. You leave feeling very humble and blessed; in spite of their hardships, they have a smile for you and move forward with their lives. What did I take away from Haiti? Don’t sweat the small stuff!
Verna Roberts, RDA
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador