I can’t help but think that if the big-game hunting dentist Walter Palmer had met his colleague Frank Whipps years ago, Cecil the lion might be alive today, as well as a whole ark full of rare, endangered, docile and beautiful trophy creatures.
Dr. Whipps has that sort of positive influence on the dental community. He’s a guy who gives dentistry a good name, especially here in Belize.
I’m thinking this while sitting in the Lion’s Club facility in downtown San Pedro where a small army of dentists, dental assistants and various other health professionals are spending up to two weeks of their time cleaning dentures, fluoridating, pulling bad teeth and filling cavities in the mouths of thousands of Belizeans.
Some of them have been doing this for 23 years.
Dr. Whipps is one of them. In fact, the first. He was a co-founder of Belize Mission Project which has brought dental professionals to Belize every fall for nearly a quarter century.
Volunteers are working in four locations during these two weeks. Besides San Pedro, they include Spanish Lookout, Valley of Peace and Mahogany Heights.
By the end of this week, the volunteers will have brightened the smiles of around 13,000 Belizeans.
Not only that but the physicians, audiologists and optometry professionals who accompany the caravan these days will have helped many to better health, and improved vision and hearing.
After 23 years, Dr. Whipps says they are seeing some improvements in the dental health of Belizeans. In some places. Certainly better diets, better access to fluoride and awareness of the impacts of sugar have helped. But Illinois resident says there is still much to do — a nationwide fluoridation program for example would help.
And there are hot spots in the country, mainly Orange Walk and Corozal — sugar cane country — where bad teeth are a huge problem.
To mount this two-week campaign each fall, Belize Mission Project spends around $400,000 BZD. Add to that the estimated $100,000 that the volunteers lose in business revenue, wages and productivity back home.
Additionally, Dr. Whipps notes, each of the 40-plus volunteers pays his or her own way. Sometimes discounts and contributions from local Belize businesses helps ease the impact.
“It is not ever a cheap effort,” Dr. Whipps notes dryly.
The clinics are open Monday through Friday and the “waiting room” is never empty. During the week, each volunteer gets one recreation day off to explore Belize and what it has to offer.
That’s some vacation. And many keep coming back year after year.
“People get such a high from doing this,” says Dr. Whipps. “There is such a feeling of fulfillment.”
And such a feeling, he promises, can become quite addictive.
The Belize Mission Project is founded, as its name might suggest, on Judeo-Christian principles. These are obviously people who live those principles. The Mission represents no specific religious denomination. For many, it is a chance to give back. For others a chance to learn about others. A chance to put words into action.
Each person I spoke with seemed to have their own reasons but all seemed affected by that “high” Dr. Whipps was talking about.
While they have improved many lives here, their own lives, too, have been changed forever.
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As a grand finale, Belize Mission Project is putting on a free concert Oct. 31, 7 p.m. at the Sylvestre Sports Complex Field on Back Street. Eddie Kilgallon, the keyboardist and band leader for country music stars Montgomery Gentry is teaming with Christian music performer Dusty Workman to put on a show.
The show, titled “Evidence of Journey,” is co-sponsored by Lighthouse Christian Radio and the Evangelical Alliance of San Pedro.