Guatemala with KIDS, 2016



This is an attempt to put in writing the amazing experience I had volunteering with KIDS (Kids International Dental Services) in Nebaj, Guatemala this year.  This is my fourth year going to Guatemala with KIDS, and there was so much that was experienced this week, I thought it only appropriate to write it down, record it all.  So, here it is.

Our week started in Antigua with a bit of the usual chaos – delayed flights, cancelled flights, and last minute changes for some of the 23 volunteers.  Of the group, only Abel, me, Kim, Wani, Briana, and my mother Sheila have done previous KIDS trips.  This was my fourth year with KIDS in Guatemala, and I must say I was anxious to make sure the entire trip worked was successful for everyone involved–volunteers as well as children and their communities,  and especially because the KIDS founders, Dr. Bob and Purobi, had trusted us with the KIDS mission, and this was their first trip in which they did not come.  Abel and I have spoken weekly for months now, and there were many emails, phone calls and planning sessions made for this one week.  I was really excited at the prospect of this week – we had lots of local help this year, with our local friends Pedro and Jairo contacting the school directors for us and helping to create a great supporting team in communities around Nebaj, which we were hoping would result in a great turnout of children.  We would not be disappointed.  We definitely felt challenged with the task of assembling a great team this year – the scare from Zika was everywhere, and some soon to be parents elected not to attend.  However, there are no mosquitoes known to be where we go in Nebaj nor has there been any reports of zika– its above 7000 feet elevation in the mountains of Guatemala and mosquito-free.

There were some challenges in Antigua.  First, a friend and patient of mine, Cathy, had made plans to volunteer with us, along with her daughter Emma, who is 15 years old.  She had also made plans to volunteer the next consecutive week with her church, in an area outside of Guatemala City.    Cathy’s story is very moving.  In the last few months, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and by the first week of August, she would be through 2 of her 3 surgeries and would also be in the midst of a difficult chemotherapy regimen.  She informed me about a month before the trip of her condition, and then quickly told me that there was NO WAY she was missing this opportunity, as it was on her bucket list, and she was putting off her last surgery so that she could come on the trip with her daughter.  She was adamant that everyone know about her condition in order to raise awareness of breast cancer, so that other women would know to get regular mammograms.  She impressed me very much with her perseverance and strength.  While I was in in Antigua, Cathy sent me an urgent message, stating that she would not be able to make the first part of our week as she was stuck in Dallas with flight delays, which meant she wouldn’t be able to work with us.  While disappointing, this situation seemed like a gift to Cathy and her daughter, as they got to spend a week in the Caribbean together.

Friday night we were visited by an earthquake, which our Guatemalan dentist, Julio, loved.  He said it felt like he was being welcomed home.  “Its so cool, did you feel that” was his text.  His enthusiasm for everything would not subside throughout the entire week.  Some of us were also lucky to witness a volcanic eruption, as well as another small trembler the next morning.  No one is ever bored in Antigua, with the many church ruins and picturesque views of volcanoes, and our time here always seems to be a great time for some fun, adventure and bonding with new teammates.  This year we found the best restaurant yet—a local place full of local food, thanks to Julio who was seeking out some stews like his mother used to make.

Once all 23 volunteers met during our orientation meeting, the enthusiasm in the air was palpable.  We had our three Columbia student dentists – Jodi, John, and Andrea;  our two pediatric dentists – Julio, a native Guatemalan who was returning after a 19 year stretch without visiting the country of his birth; and Roberto from Laredo, Texas;  Kim from outside of DC, whom Purobi labled a “superdentist” who changed weeks to join our team, Briana, a dentist currently living in Florida, who had joined KIDS as a student dentist; Sima, an enthusiastic first-time volunteer who practices in LA; Nancy, a pediatric dental resident at UC San Francisco; Charles, a prosthodontic resident at the VA system in LA; and Adam, a dental school classmate of mine who practices in Tennessee, and of course, me, a dentist who practices in Napa, California.

For the volunteers with a non-dental history (aka the nondentals), we had our amazing leader, Abel, who manages to run clinic after clinic in new settings that never cease to be run efficiently and smoothly; Adam’s wife Stephanie, a school teacher; Wani, a retired Optometrist from LA who usually does 2 trips with KIDS per year; Abel’s 20 year old nephew Efren; my mother, Sheila, who was on her third trip with KIDS to Guatemala; her good friend Marcy, a yoga teacher and retired educator from Napa and her son, Steve, a project manager with a large construction company;  Warren, a food scientist in Napa; Natalie, a nutritionist who works with Kim and whose Grandmother was born in Guatemala – this was a very important trip for Natalie, and; Margaret, a newly retired nurse, and her husband Issa, who live in Napa as well.

Sunday morning, our trusty chicken bus driver, Senor Lestor, and his assistant Jose Luis, showed up a just a touch late, as they were hassled by the cops in Antigua for driving a chicken bus in the city limits, and after loading the bags Guatemala-style on the roof, we were off!  The drive to Nebaj, in the Mayan Highlands, is about 7-8 hours by bus, depending on the the numerous markets, parades, marathons or road closures we may face.  It’s always an adventure, and this year we learned Senor Lestor took his newest bus (he owns and operates 5) and that this bus is a bit smaller than the ones we took in years past – that proved to be a wise move as we navigated tight turns much easier this year.    The drive to Nebaj is beautiful, and the mountains become steeper as we get closer to our destination.  Along the way, we get to see Lake Atitlan, which reminds me of years past when we would work based in the lakeside community of Panajachel.     There were many sleepy faces and bobbing heads on our bouncy journey, as well as interesting conversations about everything under the sun.  Road trips will do that to a group of people.

This is the third year our group returned to Nebaj, in the Ixil area of the Mayan Highlands.  The area is comprised of many mountainside pueblos, in which the community primarily raises corn and other limited agriculture for subsistence living.  A certain smoke hangs over every pueblo from the wood fires in every kitchen.  This area experienced some of the worst atrocities by the dictatorships of years past, and the people that live in this area are notoriously private.  We have learned about the war on the peasants and the Mayans by the government, and of the tenacious resistance by the Mayans.  The guerilla fighters would live in the forests, untouchable high above the pueblos, and the armies then decided to “take the water from the fish”.  Meaning, if the guerilla fighters couldn’t be beat, then the communities and families that supported them could be crushed.  Hence, the genocides and the atrocities that took place.  This area is still very poor, has no land rights, and is still subject to the whims of the ever changing and corrupt government.  This history is important to remember while working in this area—it helps explain the shyness, the durability, and the skepticism of these wonderful people.

We arrived in Nebaj and for those that know Senora Angelica, we were very happy to see her alive and well and waving to us in the front of her hotel, the Hotel Santa Maria.  The homey comforts of her place are something I look forward to.  Her wonderful breakfasts and her motherly touch are always welcome.  I was really hoping that this year my water heater unit would work and I could have hot showers, and maybe not even get an electric shock as in years past.  Got lucky—hot showers all week with no electricutions. In Nebaj, we settled in, went out for dinner at local backpackers bar, El Descanso, for some quesadillas and fajitas, but for me, mostly for the homemade corn tortillas.  Mmmm.  And a Gallo beer helps wash it down too.

Monday morning, we were up early, fueled by a wonderful “typico” breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, salsa, tortillas, plantains, black beans, bread and more, made by Senora Angelica and her bustling staff, and we were off to Xolcuay in the community of Cotzal, about an hour drive from Nebaj.  We have been here for the two previous years and have had increasingly good support from the director and the maestros/teachers.    This school has a large “salon” or great room, that was wonderful for setting up the exams, education, and waiting areas.  Being that this was our first day, the easy communication between volunteers was appreciated.  We spent extra time going through the clinic flow with all volunteers, and after a formal meeting with all of the maestros, we began to operate.  Our team quickly came to life and it was great to see everyone working so well together.  Our week was finally underwayand overall it was a very smooth first day.  One memory that stood out was meeting a wonderful teacher named Celestina, who asked me to treat her two daughters.  Celestina, like the other teachers this day, were very helpful all day long.  It was a noticeable shift from years past, in which the director and the teachers seemed unprepared for us and were less than eager to open doors, move desks, and interpret.  We will come back here for at least another year.   After our bus ride home, we were ready for a dinner and an early night’s bedtime.  Upon arriving at the hotel, we had our traditional debriefing, where we each share our experience of the day, and offer any suggestions for improving our systems.  This is one of the greatest teambuilding moments—it brings everyone together and you learn what the day was like from other people and perspectives, and takes on the feel of a family meeting.  The Mayan dialect spoken at this village was Quiche, and some words that you heard very much of were “zapi achi” for open wide and “todo achi” for close!  These children were very respectful and obedient, and they do whatever their teachers tell them to.   The children learn to speak Spanish in grade school, and their first language is their Mayan dialect, so speaking in that language seems to be the most effective.

Day two had us at Xix, pronounced “sheesh”, where we had gone for the first time last year.  This school was way out of the way, about 30 minutes up a dirt road, through mountain tops and jungle, and dropping down into a small valley, you find several buildings, one of which is the school.  This school seems the poorest of the schools we go to, with trash on the school grounds, many children and parents barefoot, and generally children that seem unbathed and very wild.  The mothers and the children were less cooperative with our requests, and we had a challenging day with with crowd control.   It was overall one of the roughest days for the team since it was very tiring to work in an environment like this.  We had a similar experience here last year, but we did have one of many heartwarming stories.  One of our local interpreters who has helped us in years past went to this school as a child, and last year he returned from his medical training in Cuba and was now a physician.  He was very proud, and this school will always be known to the KIDS group as “Diego’s School”.  I couldn’t help but think about him while I was working with the children on this day.  The number of children is not huge at this school, primarily due to its remote location, but many of these children were uncooperative and difficult to treat.  We quickly realized that every child in the clinic was going to cry once they were in the dental clinic, and we tried to slow down and maintain a calm environment, albeit in vain.    All day, there were curious children peeking in the back windows of the classrooms, and after a while, everyone just ignored them.  Usually we don’t like the children to see what goes on – the crying and instruments may scare them, but there was nothing we could do to keep these curious children away.  The stations seemed to be working better today, and Wani ran a tight ship in the sterilization room.  We were happy to have power on this day to place some glass ionomer fillings. We finished early today, and wanted to reward the team with a visit to the famed Hacienda Mil Amores and its famous cheese.  We were not disappointed and had a wonderful dinner at a great, long table that was outside—the picturesque view of this lush valley was amazing, even in the rain.  The cheese and “quesadillas” did not disappoint—although the meals were much more than quesadillas, its just how Abel described them to us gringos.  This lush green valley and steep green mountains on either side felt as if were in in the alps.  Apparently an Italian family settled here nearly 100 years ago, and this place seemed unchanged throughout the wars and strife that plagued other parts of Guatemala.

Wednesday morning we were off to Juil, the longest drive of the week – about 1 ½ hours from Nebaj, where we had been for the previous two years.  We were happy to see that there was a major addition going on in this school.  The director proudly reported that they were building a salon and several more classrooms.  The construction crew worked alongside us all day.  This school is known to us as the “green school” or the school where the child ran out of the clinic and Abel went into the community to bring him back to complete his treatment.  Can’t let word get out that you can run away from the KIDS team!  Of course, this team has the utmost respect for the children, and day after day I was blown away at the care and respect that was held for the beautiful Mayan children.  We had a great day here, with the team working so well together that I felt we have worked together for a very long time.   The walkie-talkies that Abel brought were a lifesaver and welcome addition to our system.  Our communication between buildings was now effortless, and the regular chaos was minimized due to this.  Wednesday evening we had a delicious dinner at Senor Angelica’s kitchen, where we then ate the next three nights since it was so good.  A home cooked meal.  As with the day before, some of our team members stayed behind due to the usual causes – traveler’s diarrhea.

Thursday and Friday we planned to be at the main school in the city of Chajul.  Chajul is one of the bustling Mayan city centers in the Ixil region.  There is a two story school in the center of town, and thanks to Purobi and Abel, who followed up on a hunch during our first year that this would be a good place to treat children, we are now here for our second year.  Last year we spent one day here, saw over 600 children, which wasn’t even half of the total children at this school.  This year we decided to spend two days here – and what long days they were.  This school is near a cooperative where the women of the Ixil Foundation sell their woven goods.   The Ixil Foundation has a fascinating story:   Funded by the coffee buyers in this area, the Foundation supports women and children and their communities with many different programs, including scholarships for young women (the recipients work with us yearly), services for women who have suffered from spousal abuse, and it also works with many of the local schools to support the children.  The Foundation and its previous executive director, Jairo, were our initial contact in this area.  Jairo has since moved on to another organization and he was dearly missed this year, however, we were all amazed by the new, and very young executive director, Eloisa, who worked with us over the course of the week.  The Foundation suffered greatly when the big coffee buyers, such as Green Mountain Coffee, started buying their coffee elsewhere due to the coffee rust disease that hit Guatemala, and in turn took their financial support with them.  Being that these farmers were organically growing coffee, the disease meant they needed to replant their crops, which would then be ready to harvest in 5 years when the plants reach maturity.  This is one of the many hardships this region has dealt with, and the Ixil Foundation is struggling due to a lack of funding at the moment.

Working in Chajul was the highlight of the trip for me.  Our team was firing on all cylinders, and the synergy and energy of the team was at a high.  Each day, we examined, educated, and fluoridated between 450-600 children, and our clinic treated about 230 children each day, in which children received fillings or extractions.   Our days were long – we started the clinics by about 8:30 and worked until almost 6pm both days.  Our team never once quit or expressed a desire to “call it a day”.  We tried our best to get to every child, and we didn’t turn away anyone, except for some older community members who had heard about the dentists at the school. We politely told them we are only “allowed” to treat children, and they begrudgingly accepted this explanation, although they wanted to know why only children received free dental care.  It did make me realize that there is no dental care whatsoever in this community, and it is something that is badly needed.  Many of the children examined had great teeth – these children seemed to come from isolated and rural communities away from the city center.   The closer to the city center or a tienda, the more “gasiosas” or sweets they would eat.  Many children only had decay on their lower teeth, and came into education with hard candies in their mouth — hence only decay on their lower teeth.   Some people asked me whether the education we provide makes a difference.  I do not know, but I do know the dental care made a clear difference – doing exams and seeing children with healthy mouths now, who had dental treatment the last year or two, was very gratifying.  No pain, no abscesses or problems for these children.  Other children had extensive decay in their mouths, and the limits of our KIDS system was evident:  we can’t treat every child, and we can’t do many types of fillings that we can do here in the US.  But, we do what we can, and it was quite a bit.

The last two days were very moving.  We had strong support from Pedro from the Ixil Foundation, and many teachers as well.  Pedro is one of the favorites of the group – he is a quiet, kind person always willing to share a smile or a greeting.  He shared his story with us last year – he lost his family in the war, including his parents and grandparents.  He was raised in the mountains, away from his pueblo, and he seems to have a heavy, but very kind heart to this day.  At the end of the last day, all of the KIDS volunteers gathered with the Ixil Foundation leaders and the Chajul school leaders.  Pedro spoke for them, and thanked us for the dental care we provided for their children.  They also thanked us for the way in which the children were so delicately and lovingly treated, as they had witnessed countless interactions of our volunteers with the children.    We thanked them for trusting us with their children and for sharing their culture and community with us.  It is indeed a beautiful culture, and I hope they can preserve in the future.  Many, many warm hugs and photos were taken after this ceremony, and I know we will have great support and friendships waiting for us when we return next year.   The Mayan Dialect spoken here is Ixil, and the most common words heard all day were “ha ha tse” for open wide and “hoopa tse” for close.  Their language is spoken very emphatically and is unlike any other I’ve ever heard.

A few stories really stand out and capture the spirit of our time in the Mayan Highlands.  One story involves Dr. Roberto, aka Berto, a pediatric dentist who would go the extra mile for each child, time and time again.  He wore his heart on his sleeve, and there were moments where you could see the sadness or the joy on his face.  Also, many children were crying or being difficult and uncooperative, and we decided as a group that we would not be able to treat children if they would not cooperate.  We wanted to set a precedent that their cooperation was needed.  Also, there were so many other children that needed treatment that we didn’t have the time to physically restrain any children, or spend the extra 5-10 minutes talking each child into treatment.  On the last day, Berto had one such girl, who must have been 7 years old.  I remember doing the exam, and seeing extensive decay and abscesses in almost every corner of her mouth.  She was clearly frightened, and it was shocking to see what was going on in her mouth.  She had said that she didn’t have pain, but I wonder if she even knew what pain was since she had lived with it for so long.  She was taken to Roberto, who showed a knack for successfully treating children who were fearful, and she kept saying “no quiero, no quiero”.  Roberto, who was dog tired at this point, decided he could not treat this girl if she would not cooperate.  I saw him immediately afterward, and asked how everything went.  The look on his face said it all.  He couldn’t treat her.  We were both very disappointed, and I thought about the long year ahead for this young lady.  An hour or two later, as we were getting ready to close the clinic, the little girl was brought back by her mother, who asked if we could treat her still.  The little girl looked much braver this time, and her older brother even stepped out of the waiting area to assist us in treating her.  Along with Charles and a couple of translators, Berto was able to do all of the treatment he needed to do on her.  Not only that, she gave him a big hug outside. The joy and relief on his face was amazing to see, and this seemed to summarize how we all felt about this trip.  As a sidenote, the clinic was almost closed, but Adam was adamant that we treat her brother, who was such a good dental assistant, and who also had profound pain in two areas.  He had 3 permanent molars extracted, and he would now be pain and infection free.    We ended the trip on a high, but there were many children we could not treat, and there were many stories like this one each day.

Back at the Hotel Santa Maria at our family dinner, we had our final debriefing.  Some tears were shared, many thanks were given to each other, and we all learned a little more about each other by sharing so much.   We were all going to miss each other, and I know many lifelong friendships were made.  This group was so positive, creative, helpful, intelligent, hard-working, kind, and fun, that I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t lived it!  A few words on the great characters who joined us this year:  First, the three dental students.  Wow, how they grew during the week.  Jodi was our loud, jubilant New Yorker who was deathly afraid of heights, so anytime the bus was near a cliff, we all made sure we asked Jodi how she was doing.  She only jumped out of the bus once when she thought it was driving off the cliff.  It was really just making a regular turn in a the village.  She’s a future oral surgeon, and loves to have fun in clinic.  Her daily dance warmups in the clinic were a hit, and you could always hear her laugh during the workdays.  John, the second dental student, was a bit more on the quiet, serious side. He was always willing to help out, would literally run when asked to do something, and was the most efficient dental student I’ve ever seen in the clinic.  Some oral surgery program will be lucky to have this guy next year.  Andrea, the third student, a future pediatric dentist, always had a huge smile on her face and learned so much this week.  She was a joy to have on our team, and her care and skill with each child was notable, and her confidence grew tremendously throughout the week.  Having dental students along these trips is one of my favorite parts of KIDS – their enthusiasm and love for dentistry is contagious, and it’s a perfect environment for them to learn in the field.

Dr. Kim, whom many at KIDS know, is serious about hard work and will make any sacrifice for the team.  Skilled at surgeries and treating children, she volunteered to be our “number” and numb each child, and I can’t remember one child crying from her numbing.  Wow.  Quiet at first, she always has a witty comment to share, and her positive energy and hard work made all the difference.  She also worked on her Spanish, and she now knows the correct meaning of the word “caliente” after using it with children for so long.  She will no longer tell children they are being hot, and will instead tell them they are being brave (valiente).  Dr. Briana, who returned after volunteering as a dental student (another reason its great to have students along—they return as experienced doctors!), was our designated DJ in the clinic, and her tunes kept the clinic hopping.  Her warm demeanor and jovial personality kept the team upbeat as well.  Dr. Adam, a friend of mine from dental school, had been to Nebaj on another dental mission trip before and had even stayed at the same hotel.  He was the designated “Dr. Bob” for his ability to do hundreds of thoughtful exams on the children.  I think he introduced himself to every child as “Dr. Adam” and shook each of their hands.  One of the most colorful personalities of the group, his unique perspective and love of Gallo beer kept the group laughing.  He was willing to do whatever the team needed him to do, including fix any gadgets.  He also won the award for the best t-shirts and funniest comments.  Dr. Charles, a prosthodontic resident on his second KIDS trip, would stay up late with the gang telling story after story.  He’s quick to share a laugh or a travel story, and spent a lot of time doing exams with Adam. He had some humorous comments to share on the charts of the children that gave us a laugh in the clinic, and gave every child a full “prosthodontic” exam, as prosthodontists can’t do anything halfway.  Dr. Bob would be proud!   Dr. Sima, who was on her first KIDS trip, radiated joy and it was contagious.  I predict she will be KIDS devotee for years to come.  She’s been wanting to volunteer like this for a while, and thankfully she found us!  She restored so many teeth we lost count—she has the patience of a monk.   She has a huge heart, and her kindness affected everyone.  Her operatory (aka table) became the go to place for tooth saving.  She made many young Mayan women love their smile again.  Dr. Julio, returning to his native Guatemala for the first time in almost 20 years, as a pediatric dentist no less, will be designated the social chair on future trips.  He was always trying to get people to get together and do something fun after the clinic.  And during clinic, always asking if his teammates needed anything.  He would get down on his knee and look each patient in the eye and introduce himself.   The significance and emotion he was feeling about his return as a pediatric dentist to his native people was written all over his face, and he took care of those children as if he was born to do it.  Moreover, the way in which the young children looked at him spoke volumes of the trust they had for him—someone who looked and spoke like they did.  I am sure more than one Guatemalan child is wondering if he or she can too, grow up to be a pediatric dentist like Dr. Julio.  Dr. Roberto, a budding writer and illustrator, as well as a great pediatric dentist, was always willing to treat an uncooperative child in the quiet room.  He would calm them down, and had tremendous care with each child he treated.  His childrens’ book “Sugar Bugs” was a hit in education, and I will be buying copies for my friends and patients.  Always quick to lend a hand or share a smile, or a positive message on his shirt “Be the reason someone smiles today”, he, like Dr. Julio, will definitely be back on future KIDS trips.   Actually, Dr. Berto is already signed up for trips to Haiti and maybe even Cambodia.  Dr. Nancy is a pediatric dental resident at UCSF.  Her gentle demeanor and bright smile were on display every moment of every day.  She would be so kind to the children that they hardly ever cried–I think she always made them feel comfortable.  During the final debriefing, she said that this trip really made her feel that she had chosen the right specialty.  You could tell her heart was in it.

For the nondental volunteers, we sure got lucky with a talented group.  First, Natalie, a nutritionist who was experiencing her grandmothers birth country for the first time, was very outgoing and would problem solve daily and help us refine our system.  She also wasn’t shy about speaking up.  She would never complain if there was a problem, but would instead suggest a new way of doing things that was faster and more efficient than the old way.  It was her first volunteer trip, and you knew it wouldn’t be her last, even though it was clear she really missed her two boys.  Wani, a retired optometrist, who often does two KIDS trips per year, has sterilization down pat!  There are no cutting corners in her clinic, and though very serious, its easy to make her crack a grin.  Warren, a food scientist who lives in my hometown of Napa, really tried to practice his Spanish with the children.  He also asked the children to draw some sketches of him – and those very creative and different interpretations had me laughing hard.  He told me before the trip “I don’t know much about working in a dental clinic, and I am a food scientist, but I can clean a mean toilet”!  I knew immediately he would be an asset to the team with that attitude.  He was great at refining our systems.   Margaret and Issa are a married couple from Napa as well.  Margaret is a newly retired nurse and excelled in post op.  She was a great surgical assistant as well when one of my patients would not stop bleeding, and her quick wit and Irish humor were always welcomed.  She also had some creative ideas, such as educating the waiting mothers as well, and we even tried this and it seems like a brilliant idea.  We will incorporate this idea next year.  Issa was always curious about everything and his clever responses would often catch me off guard.  He seemed to always have an interesting thought to share.  He made a good team with Margaret.  And, Marcy.  Marcy was an amazing part of our team, and excelled in education.  A retired educator herself, she would have the students teach the class how to brush, and the response was instant.  She had many small ideas like these, and involving the students in their education quickly sparked their interest.  Her positive and supportive attributes made her a beacon of light on this trip.  Her son Steve, a project manager with a construction company, joined us last minute after his schedule opened up.  His analytic mind and excellent Spanish were an asset to our team, and we were blessed that he was able to join us.  Stephanie, Adam’s wife, was on her first volunteer trip and first trip to a place as poor as Guatemala.  Her eyes were wide and she absorbed everything when we traveled—always looking out the window and taking everything in.  A teacher by training, she is gifted at connecting with children.  She also loves Adam very much, and tolerated his bad jokes very well. Her big smile and easy laugh make her fun to be around in whatever station she is at.  My mother, Sheila, was on her third trip, and knows the system well.  She practices her Spanish with the children, and never cuts any corners!  She studies the places we go carefully, always thinking about how her understanding of the culture and place explain what she sees, as a historian would.  It made me very proud to see how well she looked after each child in the fluoride station or post op.  Efren, Abel’s 20 year old nephew, was the young guy of the trip.  His open heart and interest in learning from others is awesome.   He seemed to really appreciate connecting with children, and when he was reading to them in education, would get down on the ground to connect with them at their level.  The kids seemed to respond really well to him.  And last, but definitely not least, is the mighty Abel.  This guy has a heart as big as Texas, and the brain to go with it.  He runs a smooth operation, making sure every part of the engine is operating as it should, and makes constant adjustments to allow for a better flow.   He will call it like he sees it, and everyone has the greatest respect for him.  This is his vacation, and he never takes a moment off.    At only 31 years old, he runs the KIDS camp like a confident veteran.

I feel fortunate to be able to work with KIDS and this group – its such a unique experience.  Its intense and fulfilling on many levels, and I won’t soon forget the characters or the experiences of this trip.   Here are some of our photos that tell the rest of the story.


Sima with another lucky patient
Ha ha Tse!
My mom and me
This sweet girl came to watch us pack up and leave in Juil.  It was raining so she used this bucket to cover her head.  This image stuck with me, and still saddens me.


Berto being awesome
The teachers were very helpful with comforting the children
Briana hard at work
The school in Chajul, many mothers with children waiting below
Briana with a nervous patient
He looks calm and happy now – good job Briana!
Berto taking a look
Some of the wild boys of Xix, peeking through the back window


Adam throwing our KIDS sign
Adam and Julio discussing some treatment options
Our fantastic dinner at Hacienda Mil Amores
Briana and Julio sharing some thoughts
Stephanie hard at work in sterilization
Kim numbing another patient
Stephanie smiling under all that PPE
Sima and Jodi having some fun
Now back to work


My mom, Sheila, hard at work in Sterilization
Berto working with some of the local teachers
Landscape is lush and rugged
Andrea and Kim getting ready to treat a child
Nancy and Warren –teamwork!!


The children waiting at the school in Xix
Abraham (a local law student), Stephanie and Issa sharing a laugh
Hey, he’s happy!
Steve and Natalie working the waiting room
Steve when he’s not being a construction project manager
One of the volcanoes of Antigua
Beautiful smile and braces, of a local woman at a weekend festival
Children waiting in Xix
My friend at Xolcuay, Celestina.  Until next year my friend!
Berto would introduce himself to every patient like this.
The mothers of Chajul in Education with their children
Poncho the alligator has really clean teeth now
Brush the tongue!
I managed to do a little work in the clinic as well.  We couldn’t do it without the help of teachers like these.
Love riding in the chicken bus together.  Feels like a field trip.
This photo means a lot to me.  Pedro is an outstanding human being, and I really admire him.  My third year visiting with him.
Steve and Marcy (son and mother), with Eloisa on the right, the new Director of the Ixil Foundation.
Best kids in the world!
Margaret with one of our favorite teachers
Jodi and her patient after some treatment.  All smiles!  Well, Jodi’s smiling at least.
My Mom Sheila applying Fluoride to one of the cutest patients of the day.
Every child has a chart signed by the parents
The traditional dress of the Mayan people is beautiful and hand made. And the people are always so well dressed and composed.
A favorite photo of my Mom from outside of the school
Yes, my back began to hurt!
Our morning team huddle on Day 1
This photo of Dr. Kim reminds me of how the children look to our eyes for comfort.  They put so much trust in us.  Note how calm she is as Kim ever so gently numbs her.
Wani, Steve and John in the clinic
Efren reading to the students in education.
Happy and curious children
The school at Xolcuay with the salon on the left
Senora Angelica waving goodbye!  Miss her already.



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