RRC grads steadily improving dental health in Guatemalan communities
Laura Wiens, Contributer
There are cultural differences around the world, but some people are more likely to smile than frown after a trip to the dentist.
“In Canada, most people dread going to the dentist,” said Taylor Nickel. “The people there line up, and they always thank the dentists after. Sometimes they even hug them.”
Nickel, a graduate of the dental assisting program at Red River College’s Winkler campus, went with some of her classmates to Guatemala this past summer for a work placement.
The RRC dental assistant grads join a team of nursing and pharmacology students from The University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota and set off to apply what they’ve learned in a foreign country.
The trip has been an annual event since 2009, according to instructor Athena Wilford. By working with local Guatemalan dentists, Wilford said there are now more available spots for students to go on the next trip. Because of the risks, however, there is still a rigorous screening process for students who apply.
“It’s not a vacation. We’re working in hot, uncomfortable conditions in rural areas, and there are dangers,” she said.
The continuous work placements are making a recognizable difference. In the communities they return to each year, Wilford said they are starting to see lasting changes in residents’ dental health.
The trip lasts for 10 days and is typically at the end of June. This past summer, however, the trip was pushed back and happened from July 12 to 22.
The communities the grads visit are very remote and impoverished, according to Wilford. Te group heads out from camp at 7 a.m. every day to get to rural communities, does their work, then packs up before dark.
“Students shouldn’t be afraid, but they should be aware of the dangers,” said Wilford. “And they should be cautious.”
Another thing to consider is the cost of the trip. Because all treatment costs are covered by donations, fundraising has already started for the 2016 trip, and the program is accepting donations right now. Red River College issues tax receipts for any donations made toward the trip.
Guatemala’s official language is Spanish, so Nickel said the language barrier is another challenge students might face. But that didn’t stop her from enjoying every second of the trip.
“I would definitely recommend current students apply to go,” she said.