Jane Gumangan, SD’13, has just disembarked in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, ending a 2,375-mile flight from Los Angeles. With five classmates (and their 25 pieces of luggage), she arrives at the Hospital Adventista de Valle de Angeles’ dental clinic. At the hospital, Jane and her colleagues utilize one dentist’s chair an x-ray machine and emergency equipment dating from the 1970s. Derek Chu, SD’05, assistant professor, Department of Endodontics, was invited by the Class of 2013 to provide professional assistance, on this first trip as was Neal Johnson, PhD, SD’08, associate professor, Department of Oral Diagnosis, Radiology, and Pathology, on subsequent trips.
Service learning team that included the first group of dental students from the class of 2013 to travel to Valle de Angeles, Honduras (L-R): Alvin Chu, SD’13; the vice principal of Supaya Elementary School in Tegucigalpa; Jane Gumangan, SD’13; Kadin Brueske, SD’13; Derek Chu, SD’05; Dr. Cesar Ortiz-Campos, adjunct assistant professor, Department of Restorative Dentistry; Karen Watanakeeree, SD’13; Tim Matthews, SD’13; Anna Duong, SD’13; and Tina Pruna, liaison between LLUSD and Hospital Adventista de Valle de Angeles
As a second-year dental student, Jane is about to see her very first dental patient, just screened by the local dentist. The patient is 8 or 9 years old. He has two chipped front teeth. Jane has experience repairing broken teeth—all expertly performed on typodonts. Typodonts don’t cry. Typodonts don’t cringe at the sight of a needle. Jane’s patient is crying. Needles terrify him. Jane finally dispenses with the rejected anesthesia and goes to work. When she needs help she can turn to Dr. Chu, who provides professional assistance. And tomorrow, with her fingers now wet in oral therapy, Jane will be revisited by her happy patient flashing his beautiful new smile.
The Honduras dental clinic is now the official project of the class of 2013, to which members have made a long-term commitment to donate continuity of dental care to its patients. The 2013 students were searching for a class project that would knit them together. Brit Steel, SD’13, says, “Our mindset was, ‘We’re together here four years. But when we walk out, what have we done to make a difference?’ We were looking for something we could do as a class so that we could remain connected as alumni.” A promising response came from first-year students in the School of Medicine who wanted to collaborate with students from the schools of dentistry, pharmacy, and nursing to create a significant, ongoing presence at a needy site. “This is what creates development and growth,” says Steel.
Representatives from the entering classes at the four LLU schools meet with University President Richard Hart, MD, DrPH, whose globe-trotting expertise had spotted options at six locations. Prudently narrowing the choice to a site that has an Adventist health institutional hospital presence and that lies within reasonable distance of affordable airfare, the students select Honduras.
Tina Pruna, MS, LLUSPH, a public health mission appointee in Honduras, serves as local contact for the students. They complete a flurry of paper work. They need letters of invitation from the government and from the hospital. They must submit a letter of intent every time they launch a trip.
Year two of the Honduras project finds 10 students enroute to the mission site. Radio announcements have alerted the local population about free dental care. A line is waiting for the team. A routine is established. A local dentist screens. Children from two schools (a total of approximately 1,000) receive fluoridation treatments. The students have never heard of fluoride. “It’s fun with the kids,” Jason Mashni, SD’13, reports. “We have Tomas and Rosy puppets. We became puppeteers, telling the kids why they need to brush their teeth.” None of the ten team members is fluent in Spanish. The four class of ’13 members that speak the language had prepared puppeteer scripts for their departing colleagues, who demonstrate on a model. “We make do as non-natives. We make do as non-natives, and try our best to communicate with the students. The kids think it’s funny,” says Jason. One of the local Honduras dentists talks about primary and secondary teeth, and the children are provided flouride treatment and given toothbrushes and toothpaste.
On trip three, 12 students are on board; a patient in the Hospital de Valle de Angeles hears they need equipment. He provides two chairs and two dental units, expanding the number of patients the team can treat. They are taking x-rays in Honduras for the first time. Michael Savage, SD’13, says, “The patients were aware that we were able to take x-rays this time and therefore save teeth with restorations. They were so happy that we could save teeth. For one lady, anxious about getting an extraction, we made a filling, saving her tooth. Afterwards she came up to me and another person who helped with the procedure on the verge of tears. I felt that we had a team and could focus on the patients. We had translators who would help us know the patients’ feelings and thinking,” says Michael.
“We have two more trips before graduation,” the students note. Class members will be returning to Honduras in the spring and fall of 2012. Half the class members going on the fourth and fifth trips will be going for the first time. The past participants are targeting classmates who have not volunteered. “We want to get them to go on to a long-term commitment, to move from ‘I’m trying to do enough procedures to get done,’ to, ‘This is what I’ll do to make an impact in the long run.’”
So far, Jane reports that in some way everyone in the class “is active in contributing to the project. This is a learning process, and the class is taking ownership rather than merely doing ‘service learning,’” she says, adding, “We have done external fund raising to assist each student who is expected to pay his or her way” (airfare: $700).
Brit Steele explains, “Kevin Kuniyoshi, SD’97, assistant professor, Restorative Dentistry, alumni Century Club president, has helped us ask questions: Where do we go from here? How do we get another class to explore a similar project? When we become alumni, we have a place we have identified with, even if we haven’t gone ourselves. Our goal: to make this a project so that everyone in the class has a chance to serve in Honduras.” Jane Gumangan adds, “It’s neat going from ‘Can we do this?’ to ‘How can we keep this going?’’’