Finally, this morning – after months of planning and preparation, we travelled an hour outside San Salvador to Joya del Ceren, site of our first El Salvador clinic. Our ground crew had clearly done their job spreading the word – we were greeted by 450 people lined up, ready to be seen by our team. We set up in the local school – as we’ve done many times before – and were seeing patients within 15 minutes.
As usual, Dental had set-up early and were already hard at work when we arrived. We never know what conditions we’ll find at a clinic site – you play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it. For the Dental team, their assigned room was exceedingly small. But they made it work jamming six fully-functional dental stations into a tiny classroom. They were practically sitting on top of each other with the always-crucial gasoline generator that powers all their equipment, revving at full blast just outside. It was loud, hot, tight and busy – and they never stopped.
Mid morning, I heard that Team Leader, Dr. Jack Cottrell and his assistant (and wife), Michelle were about to tackle a particularly challenging case. Thirty-one year old Luisa’s mouth was in pretty bad shape. She needed a bridge to address a massive gap between her front teeth, multiple fillings and an extraction of an undescended incisor. One of the best ways to promote the impact the Dental team can have on a patient in need is to shoot Before and After photos. You can see the difference 15 minutes and decades of know-how can make. This is the type of lasting change this team can bring to the lives of the people we meet down here. And it continued all day long.
Medical Team Leader, Dr. Tony Brown encountered a mother and her four children who seemed to be in generally good health – happy and engaged. But within minutes it was clear that all five family members were completely deaf and mute. In Canada, cochlear implants would change the lives of people like this – but not here.
Every patient who sees a Medic or a Dentist then proceeds to Pharmacy to pick up prescriptions and all the relevant instructions from our crack team led by Chris Ritskes. Most patients receive anti-parasitic medicine and vitamins but they also dispense anything and everything as prescribed by the Medics. The Pharmacy is a well-oiled machine and today, the line-up was seldom more than 10 people long – great job!
The last stop is Distribution where Rebecca Thomson and her crew patiently organize, pack and distribute clothing, shoes, food, toys and glasses – no one goes home empty-handed.
As usual, we were all struck by the extraordinary people of El Salvador (including 102 year-old Victor Alfaro who walked to the clinic and really charmed Medic Debra Dowson and her translator, Rocio). The children are beautiful and happy and their parents are strong and proud. That they have so little is but a fact of life. Undaunted, they persevere and live their lives. There is no option – a reality they’ve accepted.
It was a great way to kick-off our week of clinics here in El Salvador. All in all, we saw and treated over 759 in Medical and 142 in Dental. For us, it was hot (35℃) and exhausting – yet we were surprisingly energized on the bus ride home as we shared stories and described the people we met. In short – it feels good to do this work. Sometimes I wonder who benefits more – the team or the people we’re here to help! And we’ll do it all again tomorrow. Stay tuned!