Atitlan Dental Health 2017 Update

This marks our 8th year of providing dental care to the villages here in Guatemala around Lake Atitlan. It all began way back in 2010 when I joined Jaclyn Sheppard in San Antonio Palopo at her request to do a health assessment on a sample population. As you may know, the fastest way to determine one’s overall health is to look first into the mouth, arguably the “window” to how the rest of the body is doing.

Most of you also know the subsequent history as we fundraised to put together a state of the art mobile dental clinic which we continue to use today. We’ve since added digital Xray.

Last year we worked here at the lake and were also invited to go up into the Northern Highlands of the Ixil District to a very remote village called Chel. Maria Consalvo who helped me pioneer this service in the early days rejoined me for this adventure and it was truly amazing. The Ixil area is my favourite in all of Guatemala. I love the genuine nature of the people there as well as the textiles.

The countryside is breathtaking albeit very wet for most of the year. We stayed with Michael Ewens of on his permaculture farm. This visit soon caught the attention of NGO’s in other villages in the Ixil and soon we were opening a conversation about a return this year to provide service again to Chel as well as Chajul and Nebaj. In Chajul there is another NGO, supporting our efforts and keen to have us serve their very poor population.

This will likely be our last clinic here at the lake as we prepare to transport all the components up to the Ixil and to leave them there in secure storage in Nebaj. There is a dentist from the USA who has expressed an interest in serving the people and also a husband/wife team of local dentists from Nebaj who are eager to volunteer their services in a humanitarian fashion to those who cannot afford regular dental care.

We will be heading north to Nebaj in early March 2018 for a clinic that will include children and adolescents who are both physically and mentally challenged. The man working with this group has graciously offered to store the clinic in what is being built as an audiology service centre. From Nebaj we will go to Chajul, then on to finish up in Chel. The whole trip will last 4-6 weeks.

As is always the case I continue to meet/network with other humanitarian groups/educators to formulate programs that can be implemented to provide responsible sustained health benefits for the villagers. This work never ends even though the clinical service may not be operational. It is such a fulfilling joy to contribute in this manner.

The transportation and assembling of the clinic here at the lake have been very tiring for me and often we are faced with political indifference but the Ixil is so grateful and willing to assist in so many ways that it is compelling to make the transition now. I look forward to returning there in the coming years if possible and to continue the important discussions surrounding whole health, education and the essential need to understand the impact of dental health/nutrition on the whole system. We have seen numerous times young children with multiple abscesses (10!) whose immune function is severely compromised for a lifetime. Diabetes from a poor diet is now rampant. I have also seen children/elders die here from these infections which go unnoticed/undiagnosed.

I will submit an update following our adventure into the Ixil.

I wish to thank all of you who have contributed so generously to make this service possible. I am so deeply grateful, words cannot express.

Yours in the true spirit of Service Above Self.