Every morning Nun Etelvina Zepeda Abrego arises to greet her young residents at Hogar Marina Guirola Leal. “Como amanacio?”, she asks each one (a good morning greeting in her native Spanish.) as she begins another day of caring for the 22 developmentally disabled children. There is a helper that sits at the front desk of the “casa” and does administrative work and another person who cooks but it is up to Etelvina to ensure that these children with disabilities ranging from downs syndrome to cerebral palsy are loved and cared for. She is the mother, the father, the family to these young people.
Etelvina’s sad eyes and soft voice tell the story. She has cared for the children seven days a week, 24 hours a day for five years and she admits it is hard to meet the needs of all of them. Especially when it comes to medical and dental care. With their medical needs being severe in some cases, medical has become the priority and dental needs have fallen to the wayside. Not one of the 22 children had ever seen a dentist until Open Wide and the local Guatemalan government co-sponsored Special Needs Week at the Peronia clinic last September. Four U.S. and one Canadian dentist spent one week serving these 22 patients and many more.
Inspired by his week at the Open Wide Clinic, Dr. Jeff Hicks, from University of Texas Health Sciences Center San Antonio Dental School and his colleagues on the board of the Special Care Dentistry Association (SCDA) extended an invitation to Open Wide’s Executive Director, Charity Crawford and Peronia Clinic director Dr. Stephanie Lambour to attend education sessions and speak on special needs foreign service opportunities at their convention in Denver, CO in March of this year. Dr. Hicks, Dr. Schaffer from A.T. Still University, Dr. Frances of Lutheran Medical and Dr. Usher from University of New Mexico, also volunteers from last year’s Special Needs Week, presented as well. Three hundred dentists were in attendance at the conference, an encouraging testament to the interest and importance dentists are placing on the dental care needs of the special needs population.
The work has just begun however. We all understand the need for better, affordable and more accessible dental care in Guatemala and other under served areas of the world. But there is a subgroup that we don’t see. They are Etelvina’s children and many more who are unknown to us. They can’t speak for themselves, nor can they work and many can’t walk or talk. They need us too.
Open Wide is about opening our minds and our hearts to those who are most in need of dental care so that is why, thanks to the groundbreaking work of Drs. Hicks, Schaffer, Usher, Barnes, Lambour and Frances we are bringing special needs dentistry to the forefront in Guatemala. Open Wide will be sponsoring its second annual Special Needs Week at the Peronia Clinic this coming September. Our volunteers will be back. And you can bet Etelvina’s kids will be there too.
We’ll keep you posted…