Making a difference might be as simple as writing a check or volunteering for an evening at a local fundraising event. We’ve all been there; taking the easy road. Instead, how about globetrotting halfway around the world to a developing country to hold a frightened child’s hand during their very first dental exam? That’s just one of the many things volunteers in the Global Dental Relief (GDR) association do while taking part in a massive educational initiative. Together, they provide preventive dental care and oral hygiene education to thousands of deprived children around the world.
Denver-based strategic planning associate Kerri Shwayder Greenberg can’t say enough about the remarkable kinds of people this type of experience attracts; a fearless new breed—advocates of ‘voluntourism.’ Approximately half of them are active or retired dental professionals. The rest—a wide range of altruistic, compassionate and adventure-minded individuals willing to cover their own travel expenses to visit impoverished areas in remote places. Once there, housing and meals are provided, as well as training. Destinations include Nepal, India, Guatemala, Vietnam, Kenya and Cambodia. “Global Dental Relief provides an opportunity to give back while exploring the world in a safe environment,” said Greenberg. “It’s a great situation for individuals who prefer to travel with others.”
Years ago, GDR co-founder Laurie Matthews took a sabbatical to Nepal with dentist Andrew Holocek. His skills were badly needed and he went straight to work, helping where he could. The experience inspired them both to return and do more. “Why not bring our friends to help set up field clinics,” thought Matthews. “For children who desperately need early care?”
Established in 2001 with co-founder, Kim Troggio, Global Dental Relief has grown from this simple idea to a full-blown nonprofit slowly changing the world. Where clinics are held, healthcare is often substandard, if at all. Local parents, responsible adults, and teachers are introduced to the basics, and are provided with free toothbrushes. Clinics provide routine care like oral exams, cleaning, fluoride treatments, fillings and extractions; orthodontics and extensive surgery or implants are not included.
Since 2001, the group has seen a staggering 93,930 patients. Thousands of children are reached via schools, community agencies and orphanages—all host country local partners. To accomplish this huge task, some 1,553 volunteers to date have added their time and talent. The largest number consistently comes from the United States; the rest from all over the world including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, or from within the host countries. Colorado boasts 196 volunteers currently, many who take family members and older children—it’s a way to model the importance of giving throughout one’s life. The only qualification required is the desire to serve and the drive to work hard.
“Our family is extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to volunteer with Global Dental Relief,” said Robin Finegan. She and her husband Cole are Denverites who went to Cambodia in November of 2013. Robin has had extensive experience in disaster management, most recently finishing up tenure as the Regional Head of FEMA. Cole is a managing partner with the law firm of Hogan Lovells. “We took our 26 year-old daughter Jordan with us. Our trip was not only meaningful, but fun as well. Having an extended stay in Siem Reap and working with the school gave us a chance to learn a little about what the people’s life and culture is like. The GDR team was amazing, professional and compassionate.”
The effort, reminds Greenberg, is both emotionally and physically challenging, but worthwhile. Once on site, jobs exist for individuals of a wide array of ages, strength and skills. Over half the volunteers are non-dental, handling day-to-day operations during the six-day clinics. Following that, many often head out on regional tours; in Kenya, for example, some take a safari.
Organizational growth has been steady; in 2010 ten clinics were offered. Projections for 2015 include 16. The costs to produce these clinics have to cover dental tools, gloves, and training materials, much of which is offset by the volunteers themselves. Other funding comes from sponsorships of children and clinics. A portion of the trip charge includes a “donation fee’ for funding the program, proving no deterrent. Such experiences seem to be great equalizers; people from every walk of life come together without prejudice to do whatever it takes. Many stay connected via Facebook or via further travels. “Americans have a global spirit of caring,” added Greenberg. “So many want to connect beyond our borders in a meaningful way. Here’s a special chance.”
If you have the time and the means and compassion to help others, think beyond the next beach resort, river cruise, or wilderness trek. Sign on for what might be the most satisfying experience of your life. You’ll be glad you did.
The Essentials Box
Mission: To engage diverse groups of dental professionals and non-dental volunteers to bring free dental care to children in need throughout the world.
Main Programs: Sixteen options in five countries to volunteer in a six-day clinic providing preventive care and oral health education to impoverished children, combined with opportunities to explore local culture, forge international friendships and participate in guided travel in Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Kenya or Nepal.
Contact Info: Visit the Global Dental Relief website at HYPERLINK "http://www.globaldentalrelief.org" www.globaldentalrelief.org, email the organization at info@globaldentalrelief, or call 303-858-8857.
How You Can Help: Sign up to volunteer, sponsor a child, school or clinic,
donate supplies and equipment , lend a hand or offer expertise in GDR’s Denver office.
Upcoming Events: Annual Gathering of Friends and Supporters in Denver, Fall 2015.
BIO: Freelance writer and novelist Corinne Joy Brown practically sanctifies those people who can stop what they’re doing and get out of their comfort zone to help in meaningful ways. The introduction to Global Dental Relief just raised the bar on volunteerism, making her rethink the leisure time she has and how to spend it. Sometimes it’s a real honor to tell a story.
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