I recently returned from an Open Wide Foundation trip to Guatemala and as usual, I have returned inspired to share all that’s happening.

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Lisa Wysel (OWF founder) & Lic. Guillermo Hegel Director of Health (Villa Nueva)

It was a busy and exciting time at the Peronia Clinic where we sponsored two specialty weeks in a row: Special Needs Week and Pediatric Week. It was an incredible experience for all of our volunteer doctors who gave so generously of their time, expertise, and love. We served 87 special needs cases performing 351 procedures; and 159 children giving 331 procedures during Pediatric week. Read more about Special Needs Week or Pediatric Week.

When I go back to Guatemala, I re-remember, in vivid color, what I love about Open Wide Foundation, what I love about our vision and how I love watching it unfold.

Almost four years ago, when creating the vision for the foundation, we listened to what our Spear dentists were telling us. We heard, over and over again, that they wanted a different approach to humanitarian dental care. They wanted to know that their volunteer time and money would go to an effort with an eye on long-term and sustainable solutions. They wanted to volunteer in a place where there was not only great need but also a partnership with local community and government leaders working toward the common goal of continuity of care, permanent clinics with good equipment and supplies.

I’ve since learned, in my many travels to Guatemala, that our vision is a doable one and that we are in the right spot, at the right time to make incredible inroads into the goals we have set before us.

But there is something else, something unexpected, something remarkable happening as a result of the work Open Wide is doing in Guatemala. We are seeing a paradigm shift in mindset. With our influence, oral health is becoming a public health priority in the minds of Guatemalan dentists, community leaders and governmental decision-makers. Here’s why I believe this to be true:

Before Open Wide, the ability of local leaders to address the overwhelming lack of dental care options for the poor was minimal. But now, because of Open Wide’s support and partnership, they are seeing many opportunities open up before them. Some examples:

• Dental schools are expanding their ability to train their students in a practicum environment at our Peronia Model Clinic.

• Villa Nueva, the second largest city in Guatemala, is working on public health networks of communication that reach the poorest of the poor and connect them to Open Wide partner dental clinics that can serve their needs.

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Left to right: Dr. Stephanie Lambour (Clinic Director), Lisa Wysel (OWF Founder), Lic. Guillermo Hegel (Health Director), Beatrice Garcia (Department of Health Coordinator)

• The public health department of Villa Nueva, is rolling out an insurance program, the first of it’s kind in all of Guatemala, for all of its citizens so that dental care is covered and access guaranteed.

• Before Open Wide, the financial hurdle was too great to open new clinics in rural areas but with the help of our donated equipment program, local mayors are opening new clinics where there was previously no access to care.

• This past week alone we had productive meetings with all of our partners in Guatemala representing local public health leaders, government leaders, dental school representatives, local dental supply and lab companies, and newspaper and television reporters and newscasters.

Evelyn Paiz with Prensa Libre writer
Evelyn Paiz with Prensa Libre writer

• The burgeoning interest in bringing better oral health to the people of Guatemala was evident in every conversation, and the dedication I saw among these leaders to come up with thoughtful, workable approaches to complex and overwhelming obstacles was inspiring.

There is no doubt that Open Wide has been a catalyst for this change. But, as with any paradigm shift, true and lasting change must come from within. It’s this work of our Guatemalan partners that tells me that Guatemala is grasping hold of the challenges and opportunities before them to bring sustainable and accessible oral health care to their people.

It’s always good to go back, to see, in real time, our progress toward our vision to bring sustainable oral health to communities in need. For me, it’s an adventure, a winding road, an incredible journey. Once again I want to thank all of our many volunteers and donors who are traveling along with us making this beautiful dream a reality.

Hope to see you in Guatemala someday soon,