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Local dentist returns to Haiti

Dr. Marcia Penwell, a dentist practicing in Salt Pond, Burin recently returned to Haiti along with her husband, Frazer Smith and Hygienist Erin Farrell.

Burin Dentist Dr. Marcia Penwell, Hygienist Erin Farrell and Frazer Smith returned from a second visit to Haiti to volunteer their time and skills. Here, Haitian children practicing teeth brushing on the puppet crocodile, ‘Mr. Cayman’. Photo Submitted


Special to The Southern Gazette

They were part of a team of six dentists, five hygienists, a dental assistant, two French interpreters and a skilled tradesman – Mr. Smith. The team left for Haiti Jan. 11 to continue a volunteer dental mission started after the earthquake in Haiti January 2010.

After the earthquake, Dr. Stewart Gillies sent out a mass e-mail to the Newfoundland Dental Association looking for volunteers to travel to Haiti. Marcia Penwell was quickly ‘on board’.

On the initial trip Mr. Smith didn’t go. It wasn’t until after they returned from the first visit he was signed up to help.

While in Haiti, two years ago, Ms. Penwell and the team gave voluntarily of their time, their finances, their compassion and their skills. The team, while conducting their clinics, reviewed, listened and observed problems brought them back again.

They continued to do so through the support of CIDF, The Stines Foundation & Partners in Health.

This team represented the CIDF (Canadian International Dental Foundation) – a solely Newfoundland-based organization of dentists,  dental technicians and those related to the dental profession.

Dr. Gillies founded the team not long after the earthquake.

The CIDF works in partnership with the George Stines Foundation, an organization founded by Dr. Alfred Stines who was born in Haiti. He studied to be a dentist and later moved to the United States.

The Foundation, named after his father George, is very active in Haiti. Dr. Stines returns to Haiti on a regular basis.

He has three clinics in total, one of which is a mobile clinic that travels throughout the Port au Prince area. One is situated in Petionville, a suburb of Port au Prince and another in the mountains in Jacmel.

Through partners in Health,  the trio – consisting of Dr. Gillies, Director/Dental technician Dave Badcock and Frazer Smith – has been busy reviewing and repairing existing equipment at their dental clinic in Saint Marc, a modern clinic they installed in May 2013.

Sterilization and suctioning equipment needed updating. Frazer installed cabinetry for three operators in this clinic. The cabinets were built in his shop in Fortune and delivered to Haiti for installation.

Friendships and bonds were made among team members as well as the Haitians, both patients and people who worked side by side with the team.

Both Marcia and Erin spoke about how grateful the Haitians were. The young children sang to them a thank you song in French, Creole and in English..

“It was very touching to see how thankful they were for something that people here take for granted.”

Ms. Penwell suggested “Seeing the poverty and hardships that the people of Haiti endure, definitely brings us closer together as a group. I have definitely made lifelong friends on this journey.”

Hygienist Erin Farrell spoke about the ‘Pit and Fissure Seal Project’ – part of the dental team had undertook in the town of Petionville. The hygienists travelled all over the island performing this program.

A non-toxin plastic resin is applied to the grooves of the permanent teeth of the older children and light cured. It provides approximately 10 years of decay protection to the children.

Older children were offered instructions on how to clean and look after their teeth. Seven schools were visited giving 2,000 children oral hygiene instructions and fluoride treatments. Each child was given a sticky varnish fluoride treatment using a disposable Q-tip.

Educational posters were left for the walls of the schools.

On a different note, soccer balls were given to the schools so students can play soccer during recess.

Ms. Farrell recalled “We had joy, we had fun, placing Sealants in the Sun.

“That was the sealant song chanted by the team of hygienists as they worked.”

She said one of the Haitians was deaf and mute, but we were able to communicate with him using his own form of sign language.

“I was able to explain things to him about Newfoundland and our type of living using a picture book of pictures from Newfoundland and Labrador, using gestures and facial expressions help to break the language barrier and his own personal disabilities. This was very humbling.”

Ms. Farrell offered up a comparison between her two visits.

“Seeing all the positive changes in the country over the past two years was amazing but there is still a great need for much more.”

The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale. The earthquake occurred at 4:53 p.m. local time Tuesday, Jan. 12.

It caused major damage in Port au Prince, Jacmel and other settlements in the region.

Some nine million people inhabit Haiti, the majority of those Haitians under the age of 20 years.

The earthquake on this small island in the Caribbean affected three million lives with approximately 316,000 dead, 300,000 injured and an estimated one million left homeless.

The average daily income is $2, used to pay for the essentials of daily living but with little left for medical or dental care.

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