At the end of a long workday, on January 21st of this year, an intimate group of Peronia dental clinic staff and volunteers celebrated the fourth anniversary of the Open Wide Foundation. It was a quiet, unremarkable moment, representing a remarkable achievement. Four years and 100,000 patients ago the Open Wide Peronia Clinic in Guatemala opened its doors and our first volunteer team went to work.
Inauguration day was a splendid one. Over 600 community folks gathered to attend the grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting of the dental clinic. One memory, forever etched in my mind, is the long line of locals, patiently waiting their turn to tour the most advanced dental clinic in Central America, oddly situated in one of the most destitute, poor and hopeless places on earth.
In preparation for this day, many of the locals had volunteered their time to resurrect the new dental clinic out of a cornfield. Even on the day of the event, there were volunteers cleaning, hauling water, painting and planting the last bits of landscape in front of the clinic. So this day of the inauguration was an epic occasion for them.
But why? What meaning did this day hold?
All I can say is that this little clinic on the hill, gave reason for HOPE. It was a remarkable event in their otherwise unremarkable lives. Their daily struggle to put food on the table, to keep their families safe, to find work and to walk the streets without fear, was, for a few hours put aside and they could HOPE for a better day to come.
Fast forward four years into this great adventure and the story of HOPE is still unfolding in remarkable ways.
The Open Wide Foundation foothold in Peronia has grown to encompass seven more permanent and two mobile clinics in remote areas of Guatemala. OWF has served over 100,000 patients, provided over 30,000 fluoride treatments and oral health education talks. It has provided mentorships to over 40 dental resident students and advance courses at local dental universities to hundreds of students and faculty members.
Did our Peronia partners anticipate all of this on that first inaugural day? Not likely. But they did embrace the opportunity to have something better for themselves and their families and their community. They understood the power of HOPE.
A few months after the clinic opened, out of an empty corn field directly across the dirt road from the clinic, emerged a little snack stand. Managed by seven year old “Ladey” and her siblings, they sold snacks and beverages to the rotating volunteers at the clinic. Everyone loved stopping by to support the blossoming business. It was sometime in the third year, the little stand morphed into a full Guatemala style “restaurante“ where the outdoor tables entice patients, volunteers, clinic staff and the occasional dignitary or community leader on a tour of the clinic to stop, eat and have a “cerveza”.
As I reflect back on all the work that was done to bring Open Wide to where it is today, I ask the same question I asked about the community of Peronia; Did we understand the power of what we were setting in motion that inaugural day? I can definitively answer that we did not. But what we did understand, along with our Peronian friends including the little snack shack-turned-restaurant folks, is the power of seizing the opportunity to work together, using our unique skills to change a little corner of the world for the better.
Without a doubt, Open Wide’s success in bringing diverse groups and cultural norms together to create something unprecedented in the world of humanitarian dental care is remarkable. Fueled by the unrelenting support and steadfast belief in the vision of Open Wide by our volunteers, donors, industry leaders, our Guatemalan partners, and the littlest of our friends like Ladey, we are the very definition of HOPE in action.
Who knows what we can accomplish in the next four years…