GSL Haiti | SNDA: Reflection by Matthew Downes (D20)

As I stepped foot off the plane, I could already see the need within the community in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Haiti has endured several natural disasters and political instability. Within Haiti, there are approximately 300 dentists for 10.32 million people. After meeting with the dean at the University of Haiti dental school and hearing that, I was in shock. We are needed more than I could imagine, and our presence couldn’t be more welcomed.  After arriving in the remote town of Leogane, I knew the people there most likely had not seen a dentist in a long time. We drove down a dirt road through several sugar cane fields just to get to our destination. When we arrived at the Rasin Foundation in Leogane on Thursday morning, there was a crowd of people waiting for us. This made me so happy because this showed that the town was very eager for our arrival and receptive to receiving oral care.

We quickly set up for a long day of treatment for the children of Leogane. The dental students from Haiti were paired with one Tufts student. As a first-year dental student, I had the privilege of working the dispensary and preparing the supply kits for each operatory. The operatory consisted of a long bench where the provider would sit and a kitchen chair for each patient. The translator was the Haitian dental student. We were fortunate to have Haitian dental students who knew English. Eventually I got the opportunity to assist the dental student during the oral exam. I did perio charting, and filled out the oral health form while the dental student did the exam. It was amazing to see the impact of our work with these children. I taught children how to brush their teeth, and watching how they were so excited to brush their teeth the correct way was so enlightening and life changing. Serving selflessly is such a beautiful thing, and it is something that you must experience to grow and truly appreciate what you have and recognize the difference you can make by just giving of your time to others when you can. The manager at the guest house informed us that after being there for 7 years, he had never seen a dental group come to that area, and he was so grateful that we decided to take the time to visit and provide oral care to this community. By being there, we not only began the oral health education in that area, but we also connected the Rasin foundation with the University of Haiti dental school, so they can receive dental care while we are not there and our work will be continued. This experience taught me so much about myself and it gave me a deeper understanding of the Haitian culture and how much compassion I have for the field of dentistry and assisting others in living healthier lives by making small changes to their diet and habits. This community is waiting for our return and hopes that we can treat adults as well when we come back. They were so thankful for us to be there and want us to continue developing the dental care within that area where access to a dentist is extremely limited. I was so blessed by being there and it was absolutely revitalizing to be surrounded by a team of students from the Tufts Student National Dental  Association with a passion for global service. I pray that I will be able go back to Haiti to continue our mission next year and build upon the work that we started!