Normally at this time of year there is a Peace and Hope Dental team hard at work treating the people in the remote villages along the Rio Grande de Matagalpa. Many of the villagers have their lives blighted by toothache. It is simply too far and expensive for them to travel to Bluefields for treatment. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we are unable to send a UK team this year. However, the Peace and Hope Trust has been able to sponsor Jose Manuel, a good, local dentist who has worked with us previously, to join an ‘upriver’ medical team led by Dr. Kelly, an old friend to the Trust. We have also provided vital medicines for Dr Kelly’s trip.
The 2020 team had a successful trip despite hitting many bureaucratic obstacles. Much of our equipment and medicines were detained in customs and the authorities didn’t give us permission to work for nearly a week, in spite of providing all the necessary paperwork well in advance. This obviously cut down our clinical working time so we had to rationalise our schedule. The villages earmarked to have clinics over two days were reduced to one. Luckily over the years there has been a steady improvement in the oral health of these villages. Many of the chronically decayed teeth have been extracted on previous trips and we believe our preventative messages are also getting through. We only extracted an average of 1.5 teeth per patient, which is a great improvement, and didn’t have to turn anyone away who needed treatment. We also gave all the patients a toothbrush, oral hygiene instruction and advice for a healthy diet. As in dentistry there are no optician services available and so we also supplied reading glasses which proved very popular.
We visited the maternity unit at Kerawalla, which is supported by the Trust. It was great to see the maternity and baby smocks, made by our volunteers, in use. The sleeping area looked far more comfortable with the donated beds, mattresses and bedding in place. It is such an important facility. Some of the women turn up many weeks before their due date as travel up and down the river is very difficult and they take advantage of a lift when it becomes available. They often arrive with only the clothes they are wearing and so the donated smocks are vital. We were also very happy to provide the Kerawalla clinic with some of the medical equipment they had requested. I think this is a partnership we should continue to build on.
We visited La Barra school and gave Ivania Nikins (the Headmistress) the stationary and teaching supplies donated by the Trust. It was lovely to see the textbooks which we had recently provided in use and being well looked after.
The logistics and agenda for the trip were managed by Anna Cruz Roque who remained out of the country but was supportive throughout.
UK team members in alphabetical order were: David Evans, dentist; Ruth Gibbins, dental nurse; Fiona Hanks, assistant and trip treasurer, Will Hanks, dentist, Maria Hardwick, dental nurse, Mac MacArthur, steriliser and team first aider. Nicaraguan members: Mr. Humberto, panga helm; Miss Leila Bendliss, clinic nurse; Kengi Martin, translator; Valeria Lopez, co-ordinator; Alvero, driver.
We also hugely benefited from support by Stephen and Katherine Ind, who were mainly stationed in Bluefields.
In July we heard with great sadness about the untimely death of Humberto, our panga helmsman. He has worked with the trust for many years, delivering teams safely all along the Rio Grande. He was a reassuring presence at the helm of the boat and extremely competent. Popular with everyone; wherever you went he had friends waiting to welcome him. Completely dependable and kind, he was in every sense a true gentleman and we will miss his friendship enormously. Richard Geary is planning to build a clinic soon in the San Sebastian area and we hope to dedicate it to Humberto.
Huge thanks to all the following: supporters who knitted teddies, donated toothbrushes, glasses etc for the 2020 trip; the warehouse team who transported equipment to support our work; Mike Gibbins and Stuart Goulding for driving the team to the airport; the UK P&H office.
Additional thanks to Hereford Rotary for their kind donation of a new portable dental chair and the continued financial support given by Latchett Church. There are others that we may have missed and apologies if so. It is always humbling to realise how many people are actively involved in such an expedition and it’s impossible to mention them all.
So how can the Trust help this year during the pandemic?
As mentioned earlier, we are sponsoring dental visits by a local Bluefield’s dentist. We are also opening up lines of communication with health professionals in the local ‘upriver’ clinics to see if we can provide medicines which are either absent or in short supply. Nicaragua and the UK spend similar proportions of their GDP on health. Unfortunately, being a poor country, even this excellent effort means that many vital drugs are in short supply. We understand that there are not enough diabetic medicines, painkillers and worming tablets so we will be looking to ease these shortages. We will also be providing medical equipment for the clinics via our container operations.
If anyone has any other ideas as to ways we can help or would like to volunteer please contact Will Hanks on firstname.lastname@example.org