LOS ANGELES, California -- In my many years of dental practice and numerous trips abroad doing dental missions to remote areas in the Philippines, I have gathered enough interesting stories worth the anecdotes I love to tell my family, friends and colleagues. Some are funny, others are amazing and a few are heart breaking.
This is one of those worth my time to share because nothing warms the heart than seeing sheer gratitude through the eyes of a child from a remote village in the Northern Samar called Barangay Cababto-an in Pambujan whose long-standing dental pain I relieved.
It's priceless, to say the least!
I run a non-profit corporation called Dentistry For Every Village Foundation. Our mission is to build full service dental offices in remote areas in the country and donate them to an entity that can run and manage them so they can provide free dentistry to the poorest of the poor -- the people most local dentists will not routinely see because they cannot afford to pay for the services. These patients are the truly destitute and they need help.
With the cooperation of many donors, in this particular case, the Sta. Scholastica's College Manila High School Class of 1966, the Foundation was able to complete a dental clinic that sports the latest in dental equipment, including a digital dental x-ray system. Some say it is the first digital x-ray system in the whole Province of Northern Samar.
The clinic was endorsed to the St. Scholastica's Mission Hospital, a new 25-bed hospital built with funding from Hyundai Asia Resources on land donated by the Salazar family. The Missionary Sisters from the Order of St. Benedictine run the hospital.
Before the clinic was endorsed to the hospital, with the help of a group of local dentists from Las Piñas City called Group A Dental Associates, we conducted a dental mission wherein we offered free basic and emergency dentistry to the folks from the nine "barangays" (villages) that make up the town of Pambujan. The International Collage of Dentists Global Visionary Funds, Henry Schein Cares Foundation, The DLV Family Trust, Hands of Hope North West, Sun Star America, Colgate Philippines, the BioMedis-United Laboratories, and many friends, colleagues and other donors provided supplies and instruments.
More than 400 people were seen in the total of four days that we conducted the mission. Many of the patients, particularly the very young and those in their teens, have never seen a dentist before. A good number of them, we later found out, just suffered the pain in silence until someone like us comes to rectify their problems. One rather elderly lady even confessed to us that she has never visited a dentist in her entire life. And, she was in her 60's!
Many of the kids spoke broken Tagalog because it was not their primary language. But the gleam in their eyes and the shy smile on their faces after their problem is resolved speaks volume. It's the best "thank you" ever that I have received from anyone I have treated in my over 50 years of doing dentistry!
I will never forget a three-year-old presented to us with multiple decayed teeth. When I asked the mother why the kid was allowed to get to such a situation, her answer to me literally broke my heart.
"Hindi po namin masyadong binibigyan nang pansin yan. Ang importante po sa amin ay kung saan kukuha nang pagkain sa araw na ito, bukas, at sa makalawa' (We do not prioritize dentistry. What is important to us is where to get food for today, for tomorrow and the next day)."
Many of the folks from the area I heard only eat twice a day. And they only eat what they can catch in the rivers and the ocean, what they can grow in the fields and the little they can buy with the very meager resources. Poverty, needless to say, runs supreme in the area. But that is not to say everyone from the region is destitute. However, there is a vast discrepancy between the well to do and the very poor. Middle class does not seem to exist in predominant numbers.
The dental clinic we donated therefore will be a blessing for them.
In addition, it will even be helpful for the handful of local dentists from the neighboring areas whose equipment is not up to date. If they need x-rays for their patients, they don't have to send them to far distant cities anymore just to get x-rays. They can avail themselves of the digital x-rays we have in the clinic.
With the dental clinic, the residents in the area now have a place to go to address many of their dental problems without fear of spending whatever miniscule resources they have that is dedicated for their food and shelter.
Another patient that stood out was a 13-year-old youngster that came bright and early in the morning the very first day we arrived at the hospital. His face was swollen and he was running a fever. A quick look indicated that he has a badly decayed tooth that got infected and now is abscessed. I immediately gave him a heavy dose of antibiotics and a few pain pills with instructions to come back late the following day.
When he came back, the swelling has considerably subsided and the pain he said, was drastically reduced.
But what blew me away was what he had in his hands.
He had a few wild flowers he picked along the way when he walked three kilometers to get to us. "Para sa iyo ito Doc. Ito lang po ang kaya kong ibigay para pasalamat sa iyo (This is for you Doc. It is the only thing I can get for you to say thank you)."
The dental clinic we donated will be manned by a young dentist from the area and visiting dentists from the Group A Dental Associates. The Foundation and the Missionary Sisters will share the cost to assure that the dental clinic will function at least five days a week.
During the dental mission, we also provided food for the community people paid for by the Foundation. Hundreds enjoyed the numerous vats full of chicken arroz caldo with Malunggay leaves cooked for the event.
The next project of the Foundation that is now in the drawing boards will be for the Ati people in Province of Capiz. The Ati are the indigenous people from Panay Island who we hear are essentially considered as "invisible people." They are marginalized due to their lack of education and lack of political value. Hopefully, we can get something done for them in spring of 2017.
We also have good news for the people of Sarangani -- the home base of Congressman Manny Pacquiao. In my conversation with him while I fitted his mouth guard when he was at the Wildcard Gym in Hollywood training for the Pac-Bradley 3, I mentioned to him what my Foundation does. After hearing what I had to say, he indicated that he might want me to build a charity dental clinic in his hometown as well. His assistant, Roger Fernandez, was witness to our conversation. Of course, it goes without saying the Honorable Senator-to-be will finance it. We hope to complete the project before he completes his first three months as a Philippine senator.
But this particular project is on our "wish" list.
Until our Filipino boxing action hero actually gives me a go signal and funding, it will stay that way. I expect those who work with him in the Philippines will understand what my projects can do for the indigent people and they will not hinder the process.
I am hopeful the project will go through particularly after what he said during the press conference in Las Vegas prior to and after his third fight with Tim Bradley. "Part of what I make in PPV goes to the people," he stated. I hope that includes funding for the dental office project he wants me to build for his constituency.
I can only cross my fingers and hope!
Ed de la Vega
Dentist from Canoga Park, California