Making miracles in the High Andes

How many 14-year-olds have
performed dental procedures at 15,000 feet?

Parker Godwin, son of the National
Trust’s General Manager Frank Balderamos and his wife Nora, is one and there
may be no others!  Parker was part of a
15-member team partly sponsored by the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman Sunrise and
led by Sunrise Rotarian Dr. Bert Thacker up into the High Andes of Peru on a
dental mission. The team visited five villages in five days and performed
sealants, fillings, extractions, examinations and fluoride treatments on nearly
1,000 children.

Mr. Thacker has been leading these
missions for six years, ranging from the Amazon region to the High Andes of
Peru. Generally, the team has two dentists and a cadre of qualified dental
assistants, but the bulk of the effort is made up of amateur volunteers with no
medical or dental training.

Rotarian Jonathan Adam was in
charge of sterilising all of the dental tools and performed his job extremely
efficiently and with a big smile. Jonathan’s wife, Sian, acted as dental
assistant to Dr. Eduardo Ochoa and, despite language difficulties, was the best
assistant he has ever had.  Eduardo is a
native Peruvian and his father Marco helped arrange the entire trip, as well as
acted as “kid wrangler” for the five days. Marco is a hotelier and tour
operator in Peru and without him and his son, along with their incredibly
skilled bus driver Americo, the trip could not have taken place. 

Chantel “Smoothly” Moodley of Grand
Cayman’s Smile Dental Clinic performed sealants and small fillings. Chantel was
the backbone of the trip and kept everyone organised and on track. Parker acted
as her dental assistant for the five days. Displaying an unusual level of
professionalism and poise for a 14-year-old, Parker was as vital a member of
them team as any adult. This year the team had extra help from Lindsey Brown
and Sarah Vaughn, two dental students from Texas.  Their youthful energy and enthusiasm for
their future careers kept everyone motivated throughout the trip. Sunrise
Rotarian Frank Balderamos alternated between being a dental assistant and
providing entertainment for the team to keep everyone awake and alert.

According to Mr. Bert, the most
important part of these missions isn’t the dental work performed, but rather
the education provided to children who have been raised with no regard (or
instruction) for proper dental care. This part of the effort was guided by
three special people. Chris Roides led the Tooth Brushing University and did so
with passion and an obvious affection for the children. Nick Kladitis helped
out with the university and was also in charge of fluoride treatments. Nick is
a former flight attendant from Canada who spends a large part of his retirement
working with the poorest of the poor in Peru. His commitment is an inspiration
to everyone. Nora Balderamos rounded out this trio. Besides helping with the
University, Nora’s main task was to hand out toys and clothing to the children
after their treatment and education were complete. Her marvellous organisation
skills and warmth toward the children made their day even more special.

Despite being extremely ill for the
first days of the mission, Roy Rojas was a vital member of the team. A former
Cayman resident now back in his native Costa Rica, Roy did it all! Roy set up
equipment, then quickly fixed any equipment that broke down, then assisted with
tooth extractions, then prepared two of the most memorable meals of the team members’
lives.  Roy’s raucous personality also
kept everyone entertained and on their toes.

Of course Mr. Thacker deserves a
special mention. His patient demeanour under tremendous stress was wonderful
and his dedication to ensuring these missions are successful is
impressive.  Vocational service is a key
avenue of service in Rotary and Bert is a superb example of how to travel down
this avenue. Bert is not only committed to his patients, but also to promoting
his vocation and training new dentists (as evidenced by his patient work
instructing the two dental students on the 2010 team).  

The Rotary Club of Grand Cayman
Sunrise contributed $5,000 toward the cost of this year’s mission, which
covered about one-third of the costs, with the remainder coming from Smile
Dental Clinic.  Individual team members
were responsible for their airfare, hotels and personal incidentals.  Mr. Thacker has dreams of building a
permanent clinic (or two) in Peru and there will be future announcements regarding
fundraising initiatives toward that end.

The team members all had a
fantastic time, though they were exhausted by the end. Sixteen-hour days along
with high altitudes, language barriers and a lack of toilet seats, combined to
wear everyone out! But each one of them would do it all again. The scenery, the
fellowship, the connection with native Peruvians, and the sense of having accomplished
something will not soon be forgotten.

Rotary Sunrise was chartered in
2002 and has 100 members, mostly young professionals from Cayman and 27 others
countries worldwide. They have fun contributing to the Cayman community and
meet for breakfast at 7am on Wednesdays at the Grand Old House.

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