A local dental team of three recently travelled to Belize to provide volunteer dental care to people living there.
Dr. Cindee Melashenko, when still in dental school, had travelled to West Africa and Guatemala to do volunteer dental work and had found the experience to be very “inspiring” and “humbling.”
Since that time she had bought a dental practise and become a mother, two things that tend to keep one tied down.
This past year she decided that it was time to do another trip. She mentioned it to her co-workers Karen Bradley, a Registered Dental Hygienist and Jenna Pederson, a Certified Dental Assistant and they both asked if they could go along.
The trio discovered the Belize Mission Project, founded by Dr. Frank Whipps.
Once a year he organizes a trip to Belize.
The group that travels there are made up of those who have a desire to volunteer their time and talents to serve the less fortunate people of Belize, who have dental and medical needs. It is a non-profit trip, which gives the participants the chance to do something for others out of pure love.
The trip is organized in such a way as to take care of any red tape involved and to minimize concerns for safety.
In order for Bradley and Pederson to accompany Melashenko on the trip, they needed to do some fundraising. They held several whitening clinics, had a garage sale and a basket raffle.
The community response was so great that Melashenko said it was like a “give back moment before they even left.”
“People were incredibly generous and supportive in what we were doing, both financially and emotionally,” she said. “It was a real blessing.”
In order to take part in the mission trip each participant was required to bring along their own supplies, many of which were donated by different companies.
“We had three big suitcases of supplies that we took with us,” Melashenko explained.
The women left in late October and were gone for ten days, actually working for seven.
Once they arrived, they travelled to different places throughout the country, where clinics had been set up.
Melashenko and Pederson worked together and stayed at a place called the Banana Bank, situated on the Belize River and surrounded by lush rainforest.
Bradley was working in a city called San Pedro, where she did hygiene all day long.
“A lot of these people have never had their teeth cleaned before so it was a really big job,” explained Melashenko.
“The clinic where Jenna and I were was at a mission and it had an open air church with a roof on it and a few out buildings that they used for a school. We were able to use one of the classrooms and set up our equipment in there.”
They saw people on a first come first serve basis, unless a doctor determined a case to be an emergency.
People would come and sit and wait, sometimes for three days and “there was no complaining,” Melashenko said.
The priority was to get people out of pain and fix their worst problems, while at the same time trying to see as many people as possible.
“I saw one child, he was seven and his eye was swollen shut he had so much infection,” Melashenko explained. “He had been in a ton of pain for who knows how long and there was no one there to help him.”
The group of dentists on the mission provided a total of 9,000 fluoride treatments, did 900 fillings and 400 extractions in one week.
“You work really hard but the need is so much greater,” Melashenko said. “It was a really busy time, very tiring, but very rewarding. The people were lovely and would thank us profusely for seeing them.”
For this local team of three, the trip had its rewards too.
“I always enjoy serving people and especially helping them to get healthier,” said Melashenko. “I think there is a lot of benefit in giving back and the girls (Bradley and Pederson) felt this as well. They remarked how rejuvenating it is to have a sense of knowing we’ve really made a big difference.”