Eye care, dental care, and clean drinking water are rights that we rarely think twice about in Canada But a village in Nicaragua was grateful for the opportunity to receive those services last month when Optometrist Rebecca Kolbenson and Dentist Shane Van Biezen travelled down with fellow professionals to lend a hand.
Their team of three optometrists and seven dentists performed around 400 eye exams, more than 400 tooth extractions and 100 restorations (fillings).
Not only that, but they were able to raise $10,000 towards a water well, and provide a pair of sunglasses to almost every person they cared for during their trip.
“The village that we drilled the well in shared a well with 10 other communities. They had limited access to water, being only allowed to collect water for at most one hour per day,” said Van Biezen. “Often there was not enough water to go around between the communities. With this well, they would have access to clean water whenever they needed.”
Van Biezen and Kolbenson say that this was one of their favourite parts of the trip, the experience of drinking from the well with the community and seeing how grateful they were.
For the medical part of their trip, both had a variety of working conditions, including a school, health clinic, and even a church for the dentists (it was not dark enough for the eye exams, so the optometrists worked from a wood shed).
“We couldn’t get the eye chart to stick on the wall so we found a log to prop up against the wall and rested the chart on top of that,” said Kolbenson.
“In the ocular health room we had invaded a rat’s home so it was scurrying back and forth in the corner while we were checking pressures and looking in the back of people’s eyes. That was the most challenging for working conditions.”
The dentists had challenges as well, and used dining room tables with shower curtains taped to them. The patient would lay on the table and there would be a bag taped to the side for them to spit into as they didn’t have any suction.
The language barrier was also an obstacle for the whole team, especially the dentists who needed to explain what they were going to do and determine if their patient was still frozen or actually in pain. Fortunately there were translators on hand to keep the operation running smoothly.
In Nicaragua, where a simple lack of reading glasses can prevent people from working and caring for their family, and where a bottle of pop is cheaper than a bottle of water, the need for brigades of optometrists and dentists is vital.
As Change for Children has seen in the past, once a water well is drilled, dentists begin to see more restorations, and fewer extractions, just due to their access to clean water.
“That’s exactly the long term sustainable change you want to see,” said Van Biezen.
“Their quality of life has deteriorated and it costs so little to go pick up a pair of reading glasses,” said Kolbenson. “Seeing their face when you put a pair of readers on them and they realize they can see again is priceless.”