Charitable organization aims to provide care where needed
by Jody Hoffmann
Time and Talents for Children, Inc. was organized in 2009, and received the Federal 501(3)C status in August. The corporation was formed for charitable purposes, specifically to better the lives of children by providing free dental care and education for children and their families, and by building or improving facilities that serve children. The first dental trip left on Oct. 3, 2009, from three different states, and arrived in Guatemala City the same day.
While this is the first trip for Time and Talents, it is not the first trip for the administrator, Jody Hoffmann. Jody led two trips to Nicaragua with another organization before forming Time and Talents with her husband, Greg, and several other people. Others on the trip - Dr. Josh Luete, Donna Moberg, RN, Joan Papke, translator, traveled with Jody to Nicaragua. Dr. John Keene is a veteran traveler to Guatemala as a volunteer with several other groups. Reneta Stegehuis is also a veteran volunteer who has traveled to many countries with other teams. Four people had never taken a trip like this, but they quickly learned the ropes and were valuable assets.
Planning trips like this takes several months and often requires a site visit. One of the organization's requirements for these trips is that the children served have little or no access to dental care. Therefore the group works outside of main cities, where free clinics are often available. Additionally it is important that they offer comfort to the team. A team that does not get adequate sleep or nutrition cannot work to the best of their abilities. The "clinics" are more primitive than the group's personal accommodations.
This trip we set the clinic up in a school on a coffee plantation. We used folding stadium chairs and loungers for dental chairs, headlamps and flashlights for extra light, and benches outdoors served as a waiting room. We brought a portable dental unit that we borrowed from another organization, but unfortunately it malfunctioned the second day and we were unable to do fillings, only extractions. Once we were into the project, we saw that the majority of the work needed was extractions. We do not offer any procedure that requires follow-up appointments, as there usually isn't a dentist available in these areas, and the patients do not have the money for follow-up care.
We hope to have our own portable unit before the next trip. We have already received a grant for a portion of the cost and after several successful fund-raisers we have now raised over three quarters of the money needed.
For this trip we were the guests of a Guatemala coffee certification company and the coffee plantation, Finca Volcan. We had very comfortable and clean rooms with bathrooms, and wonderful cooks that fed us way too much, including fresh homemade tortillas each meal. The views from any spot on the farm were spectacular. Everyone could have admired the scenery all day and never tired of the vistas. The team had no need to be afraid in this area and we were not the least bit uncomfortable, which made for a very happy group.
The team consisted of two dentists and two hygienists, four assistants, one person to do "mob control," an RN, translator, and administrator. Participants came from Wisconsin, Colorado, and California.
Once our "furniture" was set up in the classroom, we set up a triage system, where the RN and translator interviewed the patients and obtained their vitals, health history, and allergy information, which they recorded on a chart. The lead dentist then did an oral evaluation, recording the necessary procedures on the child's chart. We generally examined 15 children at a time and they were then ready and waiting for procedures to be done. Having an office without much equipment often presented challenges - dentists and hygienists shared the available instruments and light. The classroom's only lightbulb did not offer much illumination. Though we had been promised more our first day, things do not move fast in Central America and the lights never arrived. We worked with available light and flashlights.
Our hygienists did not clean teeth but helped the dentists by giving injections and pulling primary teeth and some easy secondary teeth. They provided brushing instructions and demonstrations by using the services of the translator. When the hygienists were recruited and asked if they would be willing to pull primary teeth, both agreed. Dr. Josh Luete quickly taught the hygienists extraction skills and was available to help when needed. Becky and Reneta were pros at this new skill by the time the week was over. Unfortunately, this is not a skill that can be used in most of the United States.
The 2009 dental trip was a success even though we weren't able to treat as many children as we would have liked. It is the prevailing opinion of the parents in this area that the children do not need to see a dentist until they have their secondary teeth. Their reasoning is, "Why cause pain when they are going to lose the teeth anyway?" We saw very few children under the age of 10. The youngsters that were not allowed to receive treatment did come to observe all the activity and we saw the condition of their primary teeth. Their pain and discomfort while eating must be tremendous. We tried to change the attitude of the parents, but one week of talk and education does not go far to reverse the prevailing attitude of hundreds of years.
We saw 449 patients, including 116 adults. Of those adults, 64 had never seen a dentist. Of the 323 children, 317 had never seen a dentist. Patients ranged from 5 to 72 years old. By the way, the 72-year-old had never seen a dentist.
In addition to the care we provided, we brought quilts, toys, school supplies, and clothing. Our "mob control" person, Sharon Lidtke, taught the children games such as duck duck goose, jump rope, and blowing bubbles. She also did crafts with them, such as making thank-you cards for Time and Talents to use in the States, handprint aprons, and a tablecloth. We sold the aprons at a fund-raiser, and we use the tablecloth when we set out display items. What the children liked the most was "toss the water-filled exam glove." Unfortunately, we caught the children sneaking used gloves out of our clinic and we had to put a stop to that quickly. We gave them new gloves to continue their fun.
In order for Time and Talents for Children to continue to do this necessary work, we need volunteers and donations of instruments, disposable items, and amalgam. Oh, and we need money too. We are hoping that a dentist who is retiring or closing a satellite office might be willing to donate some surgical instruments. Our 501(3) status makes any donation tax deductible.
Dental professionals from any state are welcome on our trips. We do all the planning and make all the arrangements. The organization works hard to keep expenses for the participants at a minimum and still provide clean and comfortable lodging and excellent food. Additionally, we try to offer optional sightseeing at the end of a trip, which gives participants an opportunity to learn about the land and culture of the country. Our next trip is planned for late October 2010.
Traveling with a team like ours is a very rewarding experience. As Aaron Braaksma said, "At first, I thought the chance to help provide dental care to children in Guatemala would involve a huge sacrifice. I was wrong! The natural beauty of Guatemala, the camaraderie of our team, and the joy of the children we assisted were gifts far greater than I imagined." I would enjoy hearing from anyone that might be interested in traveling with us or who wants to learn more about our programs.
One of my favorite quotes is from Mae West. I think it pretty much sums up everything - "Love conquers all except poverty and a toothache."
Jody Hoffmann is the president of Time and Talents for Children, Inc. She formed the corporation with her husband in 2009. She worked for a dental supplier in Milwaukee for several years. She can be contacted at [email protected].