El Salvador/13 – Day 3: Surprise at El Congo

by Tim Fallis
Wow – what a way to kick off our week of clinics here in El Salvador!  Despite all the planning and organizing of the past year and particularly the past 24 hours, nothing could have prepared us for today and our first clinic in El Congo.
We left the hotel before 8:00 this morning and drove into the mountains for about an hour.  We ended up on a road that took us straight up a mountain ridge high above a stunning lake on our right and a lush rain forest valley on our left.  And still we climbed higher, with no sign of civilization around us, until we arrived at a school on the left above a soccer field.  (We typically set up in local schools which, in November and December, are closed.  Because of the incredibly hot weather during these months, students are given this time off – only to return to class in January.)
Local community leaders had set up tents, chairs and a sound system on the soccer field – they were all ready for us!  And so were the 1,500 people, who had travelled from near and far, and were patiently awaiting our arrival!!  Our clinic marked the first visit by a primary care team in several years.  It was the largest crush of people we’ve ever encountered at a clinic site which, in this case, was never intended to accommodate a group of this size.  Our security team and local officials did there best to manage the crowd but with only one entrance/exit, it was major challenge to make one’s way to the gate and nearly impossible to leave.  Needless to say, after a tense couple of hours, a temporary doorway was cut into the chainlink fence surrounding the school to serve as an exit.
Medical (two classrooms), Pharmacy and Distribution (one classroom each) were located in the school building with Dental taking over the Church across the street.  Jack and his 20-person Dental team had a great set up in the sanctuary.  The generator was cranked up and soon ample power was delivered to all eight mobile dental units.  We used the building’s power supply to run our sterilization equipment.  When the building lost power in the late morning, they turned to Plan B and cleaned instruments chemically – so treatment could continue uninterrupted.  
In the middle of our electrical woes, Jack and Michelle met 13 year old Lizet Hernandez.  Seven of her upper front teeth were nearly destroyed by horrendous decay.  She’s a beautiful young girl with a striking smile, just entering her teen years – but her front teeth were discoloured and crumbling away.  Without treatment, she’d lose them all within the year.  So Jack and Michelle went to work and didn’t stop until a remarkable transformation was complete.  The “Before” and “After” photos on the left are worth a thousand words.
Our first day was a long one.  But it was considerably longer for the people we helped.  Many of them walked for miles and then stood in a crushing line-up for hours before being seen.  Yet, as has always been our experience, they were patient, calm, understanding, orderly and happy to wait their turn.  And they were grateful that we came.  As I’ve written many times before in this blog – doing good feels good.  And the people of El Congo made us all feel even better.
In total, we saw 805 patients in Medical and 181 in Dental with over 171 pairs of reading glasses dispensed – amazing results for our first clinic.  And tomorrow, we do it all again, this time in the community of San Jose Villanueva.  As always, we’ll update the blog upon our return.
P.S.  The children of El Salvador continue to astound the team – they’re beautiful, happy, respectful and charming.  And they gravitate to anyone with a camera – so I had my hands happily full interacting with kids of all ages.  I’d take their pics and then show them on the back of my camera.  Even when the shot was lousy they loved it all – and so did I.  Below are a few to end this post.  Until tomorrow


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