Dentist Kent Moberly and his wife, Elaine, a nurse, spent one week this October in the countryside of the Dominican Republic on a medical and dental service trip.
The Magnolia couple and 36 other volunteers went with the organization Somos Amigos. This is the second consecutive year they have traveled to Naranjito, a small town in the Dominican Republic.
Moberly has been a dentist for 32 years in Magnolia. His practice is in Magnolia Village, above Starbucks (3300 W. McGraw St., Suite 240).
“Magnolia has been great to me and supported me for 30 years,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to apply your skills to someone less fortunate.”
After a successful trip last year, the Moberlys returned, along with Eric Holpainen, a sterilization technician from Moberly’s dental office.
“It was pretty wonderful to go back to see some of the same faces,” Elaine said.
Being one with the people
Somos Amigos began as a service trip for boys from a private school in Washington, D.C. Founder Frank Brightwell wanted the boys to experience poverty. Those first few trips, which began in 1989, were to build a water system and school. Brightwell convinced his own dentist and doctor to attend the trip in 1997, and there has been a medical and dental component ever since. Four years ago, Brightwell moved to Seattle and now lives in Leschi.
Somos Amigos is different than traditional medical and dental clinics, Kent said, because the organization has adopted Naranjito. With only 100 people in the town, the only real buildings there are the two free clinics, the school, a church and the gathering building, where the volunteers eat all of their meals. Somos Amigos bought the land and then deeded it back to Naranjito.
Even getting there is a bit of a challenge. The volunteers flew into Santiago, then had a two-hour bus ride into the mountains toward Haiti.
An important aspect of Somos Amigos is that the locals are just as much a part of it as the volunteers, Brightwell said. Volunteers don’t stay in hotels; instead, they bunk with local families, sleeping under mosquito nets.
The volunteers pay for the flights to Santiago; another $300 covered their food, accommodations and transportation for the week.
The Moberlys don’t speak Spanish, but they found a common thread with their hosts in America’s pastime and watched the Dominican baseball championship series.
Gratitude for care
The medical and dental clinics treated about 900 patients from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and until noon on Thursday, before it was time to pack up. Some patients go from specialist to specialist in the dental clinic. The dentists give people their smile back, Brightwell said.
Volunteers come to the clinic three times a year, so the local people are able to be seen regularly. This “continuity of care” was what drew the Moberlys to Somos Amigos.
“What’s really amazing is how many volunteers come back trip after trip,” Brightwell said. “It’s a privilege for me to work with such a dedicated group of people that are just so humble.”
Patients come from hours away — by foot, burro or motorcycle. Many of the medical patients were elderly, and the most common diseases Elaine treated were high blood pressure and diabetes. She also did well-child checkups for children. Most patients who came to the medical clinic left with multivitamins, basic pain relievers and a four-month supply of any medications they needed.
The equipment in the dental clinic was another big bonus for Kent. It was a “palace” compared to most Third World volunteer clinics, he said. There were 1970s dental chairs, lights, sterilization, an old X-ray machine and a “jerry-rigged” compressed air and a compressed vacuum. Many of his dentist-friends who have done similar trips were working with a lawn chair and a bucket for the patient to spit into.
Kent noticed a big difference between the local people who regularly came to the dental clinic, who were “really quite healthy,” and the people who travelled from Haiti, who had a lot of dental emergencies.
“[Somos Amigos] provides a continuity of care as opposed to a group that shows up in a town, takes care of people — basically puts Band-Aids on things and then never goes back,” he said.
The patients came to the clinic dressed in their Sunday best, lining up well before it opened. Some would wait all day until they were treated in the 90-degree clinic, but they were always appreciative, Kent said.
“They knew you had a job to do: They let you do it, and thanked you afterward,” he said. “They were just very, very appreciative.”
In the future, Brightwell would like to add a fourth trip and find a way to be able to follow up with patients in between visits. Eventually, he’d like to take Somos Amigos to more towns and help more people.
Kent and Elaine would like to do another trip next year, but they’re leaving plans open for now.
“It just makes you feel really blessed as far as where you live, and it just makes you appreciate more of what you have here,” Elaine said. “The simple things, [like] a hot shower — it feels kind of amazing the first week back.”
For more information on Somos Amigos, visit somosamigos.org
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