Thoughts on Being a Volunteer

VolunteerI just finished a week at Open Wide Foundation’s clinic in Peronia, Guatemala. It was a chance for me to grow, yet again, in this life I love. I was not sure what to expect when I went; I am always a little nervous going to a strange country and to tell the truth, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to go.

I am in the midst of the busiest time of the year for me at Spear Education. Planning and producing content and strategy for the coming year are what Dr. Gary DeWood and I do at full blast during the summer months. This trip is a massive interruption of that process.

We arrived at the clinic in the city of Peronia, one of the poorest cities in Guatemala. It’s a place refugees settled during the 30-year civil war that ended in the mid 90s. Until Open Wide arrived, there was no dental care in this town of an estimated 60-80,000 residents. It is riddled with gangs, drugs and poverty, and the clinic has two full-time armed guards to dissuade intrusion and to protect the volunteers.

Only seven months old, the clinic is still feeling growing pains and trying to find its way though the challenges of having different dentists work every week and still have a semblance of organization.

Add to that, five dentists with different work habits; some speaking no Spanish; each looking for different supplies and materials; working with equipment different from what they have at home; without their own assistants, and you have the potential for chaos.

In spite of all of that, our group of 11 volunteers provided the equivalent of $125,000 of dentistry to about 100 patients over the four days we were there.

I found myself stretched beyond what I thought I would be doing. Geez, I took out impacted teeth, did surgical extractions and did an endo; none of which I have done in over 20 years, and I have to say I did a damn fine job in spite of myself. I think my patients were grateful. I feel pretty good about what I did and I am leaving exhausted.

I can’t say that I am ecstatic; this was a very hard week. I don’t yet love Guatemala, it is a study in extremes and the clinic has a ways to go before it runs efficiently.

Here’s my deal though: I am coming back. I am coming back because there is something good about putting myself into this zone of discomfort and staying in it. The work here is good, the people are great, and the leadership is committed to doing the best they can do. I am coming back because I know I am needed here and because this is something I can do that is way beyond me.

I may not be explaining this very well, maybe because I am not sure myself why I am already thinking about the next trip.

I invite you to join us. What I know about dentists is that we are perhaps the most generous of all the health professions in donating our time and talent, and this is an opportunity for you.

You will benefit by coming, you will leave tired, you’ll meet incredible people, you will laugh and be saddened, you’ll get frustrated and angry, you will be in touch at the most basic levels with your own life and you will grow.

The quote I love most and now try to live by: What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

This fits for me.

Email me at sratcliff@speareducation.com and I’ll tell you how to get involved.

– See more at: http://www.speareducation.com/spear-review/2012/08/thoughts-on-being-a-volunteer/#.Urh1NWRDvGF