U.S. dental team marks 23rd year putting smiles on the faces of Belizeans

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The Lion's Club building has been a hive of activity these past two weeks as dentistry professionals have descended on Belize from the United States to volunteer their skills to the community. This is the 23rd year for Belize Mission Project, which started as an innocent fishing trip to San Pedro. Volunteers pay their own way, taking vacation time and puttng smiles on local faces while leaving very much changed themselves.
The Lion’s Club building has been a hive of activity these past two weeks as dentistry professionals have descended on Belize from the United States to volunteer their skills to the community. This is the 23rd year for Belize Mission Project, which started as an innocent fishing trip to San Pedro. Volunteers pay their own way, taking vacation time and puttng smiles on local faces while leaving very much changed themselves.

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.

Dr.David Landgren and his daughter Claire, 16, of Hastings, Nebraska, are on their first dental mission to Belize and both have seen it as the experience of a lifetime. Dr. Landgren spoke of the "dichotomy" that exists on Ambergris Caye between the extreme poverty of San Mateo and the luxe life in resorts along the coast. Here they are working on Suyapa Leslie of San Pedro.
Dr.David Landgren and his daughter Claire, 16, of Hastings, Nebraska, are on their first dental mission to Belize and both have seen it as the experience of a lifetime. Dr. Landgren spoke of the “dichotomy” that exists on Ambergris Caye between the extreme poverty of San Mateo and the luxe life in resorts along the coast. Here they are working on Suyapa Leslie of San Pedro.

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.

Jan English of Princeton, Illinois has returned to San Predro for at least her third time, performing extractions and fillings on residents. In the chair is Adayli Moncada of Caye Caulker while her mother-in-law Rosie Wejbe waits nearby.
Jan English of Princeton, Illinois has returned to San Predro for at least her third time, performing extractions and fillings on residents. In the chair is Adayli Moncada of Caye Caulker while her mother-in-law Rosie Wejbe waits, at left..

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.

Why?

“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.

* * * *        * * * *     * * * *

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.

 

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3 thoughts on “U.S. dental team marks 23rd year putting smiles on the faces of Belizeans

    Susan W. said:
    October 28, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    This whole article makes me feel good about humanity. God bless the Drs/Assistants and all the volunteers that make this possible!

    Like

    Island Miracles and Great Turnout - tacogirl.com said:
    October 29, 2015 at 6:10 am

    […] in more great Volunteer work being done on Ambergris Caye? Read U.S. dental team marks 23rd year putting smiles on the faces of Belizeans on Robert Hawkins Bound For Belize […]

    Like

    Linda Young said:
    October 30, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Kudos to the Dental team for preserving those beautiful Belizian smiles with shiney white teeth!!!

    Like

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