There’s often no electricity or running water, and there’s a danger of becoming ill from the food.
The days are long and the work is arduous.
But Dr. Bert Thacker has been looking forward to returning to Peru since taking a team of volunteers there in March to offer free dental services to impoverished people.
‘They have no way of helping themselves,’ he said. ‘Some of them have been in pain for a year. You go in there and change people’s lives. There’s no feeling like it.’
Dr. Thacker and his team from Smile dental clinic leave for Peru today to conduct clinics in four centres, this time bringing additional volunteers and equipment to provide a broader range of services.
Rotary Sunrise has pitched in around $10,000 to assist with equipment and supplies, and two members are travelling along to help during their nine-day stay.
The trip will cost around US$15,000, a price tag Dr. Thacker picked up on his own for the last excursion.
In March, they treated around 160 patients extracted about 350 teeth. Dr. Thacker expects to see more patients this time around.
Along with extractions, they’ll be doing preventive fillings, handing out toothbrushes and educating patients about dental care and nutrition.
Dental hygienist Christine Kladitis went on the original trip and found it both rewarding and challenging. Communication barriers, sparse working conditions and lack of equipment – including no X-rays – made for some trying moments.
‘There, we say a prayer and then we do the work,’ she said. ‘I enjoy being able to help people. They are just so thankful.’
Her father, Nick Kladitis, has done missionary work in Peru for more than 20 years, and has once again arranged the logistical side of the trip including flights, transportation and accommodations.
Since dental supplies are scarce in Peru, the group is bringing all the supplies and equipment they need with them – everything from portable chairs, instruments and gauze to chemical sterilizers, anaesthesia and needles. They also have to take along all the personal supplies they need including food and water.
Dental hygienist Sonia Persaud is making the trip for the first time.
‘It will be a great experience – an opportunity to travel to another country and do something you love.’
The educational component is important, she added.
‘If we do that every year we go, I think we will be able to see a difference long-term, especially with the kids.’
Dental assistant Kristine Henriksen, who was part of the original team, said while the work is demanding, it’s also satisfying.
‘It was hard to see the state some of these people were in health-wise but it’s a very rewarding experience – you really feel like you’re doing something good.’
The team, which also includes dental assistant Nicole Sollazzo, has collected clothing and toys to distribute there as well.
Rotary members Dr. John Epp and Kim Remizowki along with Steve Ali and Dr. Thacker’s niece, Kelly Baudru, round out the crew, and will be pitching in by helping set up and sterilize equipment.
Dr. Thacker plans to make two trips every year including one during high-water season in March so they can travel further into the jungle by boat to reach more people.
‘I look forward to it. It’s an adventure and we have great camaraderie,’ he said. ‘The patients are so friendly and they really enjoy our services. Every one of them has to give you a hug.’