It’s hard to imagine here in Canada that people would spend all day, walk for many kilometres, just to get their teeth checked. But in places like Nicaragua that’s the reality.
Two local medical professionals have decided to donate their time to go down there to provide services that children often don’t have access to. Dentist Dr. Shane Van Biezen, and Optometrist Dr. Rebecca Kolbenson will be joining a Change for Children charity trip to give kids free dental and eye check-ups, as well as raise money to build a well to provide clean water to the community.
“With these trips we always try to provide some sort of sustainable project to help out, so this year we’re going to build a well,” said Van Biezen, who went on a trip with Change for Children last year to Ecuador.
Dentistry is still the primary focus, and Van Beizen says they see up to 100 kids a day during their 10-day trip, providing primarily fillings and extractions. For many of the children it will be their first time ever seeing a dentist.
“The conditions are definitely different…at one point I had a kid sitting in my lap with his head leaning back in my arm as I was working in his mouth,” he said. “And one of the biggest hurdles is actually the language barrier. We’ll try to learn a few phrases, like ‘spit here’, but we’ll have to rely a lot on local translators.”
Exams will likely be done in one large room, separated by sheets for privacy.
The optometry aspect of the trip will be new to Change for Children, as the organization jumped on a rare opportunity.
“I got tricked,” joked Kolbenson, who had originally planned to go on the trip with her fiance (Van Beizen) as a helper. When the organization discovered she was an optometrist, they asked her to put together a team to provide eye care.
“It actually worked out well, we’ve always wanted to do a trip like this together.”
Kolbenson went on a similar mission to Africa last year, and is no stranger to charitable trips. Her first was many years ago, when her father (also an optometrist) took her to northern Saskatchewan to provide care in one of more isolated communities there.
“People are so appreciative,” she said. “You kind of get addicted to helping out that way, and we’re so fortunate that we’re able to do it.”
Change for Children has already made connections with a pharmacy and eye centre in Nicaragua so that prescriptions for medication or glasses can be filled locally.
“We want to make sure everything is sustainable,” said Van Beizen.
“There’s no point going down there and handing them one month’s sample of a prescription only to leave them hanging after that.”
Kolbenson and Van Beizen will embark on their trip in February, but in the meantime there is plenty that can be done to help right here in Golden. Kolbenson will be accepting sunglasses and reading glasses to bring with her, which can be dropped off at her 9th Avenue North office.
“Any condition is fine. Just drop them off and we’ll fix them up if need be,” she said.
Donations will also be accepted to help build the well, which costs $10,000. Donations can be made at www.canadahelps.org, search Change for Children.