At 6 am, the city began to stir. Dogs barked, roosters crowed, diesel truck belched, and the sun began to peak over the mountains in the east. The air was thick with a mix of fog and smoke that would soon burn off as the sun rose higher in the sky. Sitting on the deck of La Posada de mi Viejo in Comayagua, Honduras, I reflected on the journey that had brought me here.
For the past 4 years, the end of January – first of February has been reserved for these people, the children of Comayagua. My wife and I have been privileged to join Sonrisas Siempre (Smile Always) in a mission to serve the poor in Honduras. Our mission, through the Comayagua Lions Club, helps the dental needs of the orphanages of the area.
Comayagua is nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. It is the coffee growing region of Honduras and the time that we are here, is coffee bean season. When we go into the mountains to serve, the beans are being harvested and dried, and brought to town to sell. The fresh coffee here is amazing!
Sonrisas was brainchild of my close friend Dr. Tom Blake from Ft. Wayne. His desire to serve started as a high school student in Spanish class. For the past 15 years, he has traveled with a team of dentists and auxiliary people to take care of the orphan children. As the group has mushroomed, Tom asked us to join the mission. For a week each winter, Adell and I join with our great friends, Dr. Michael and Allison Scott of Lubbock, Texas, and Dr. Bill and Carol Moorkamp of Rolla, Missouri in this mission. We are accompanied by 6 or 7 other dentists, 3-4 additional hygienists and several assistants and support people.
Our service begins by setting up our clinic of 5 chairs for dentistry and 4 chairs for hygiene. We begin screening kids on the weekend and treating them starting on Monday. A typical week involves upwards of 800 restorations, 900 extractions, and 300 cleanings. Adell heads up the hygiene clinic and I take 3 other dentists and 3 assistants to the mountains to care for the villagers. Usually, we work with no electricity in the mountains and folding chars. It truly is MASH dentistry!
Each night, after dinner, we fall into bed and sleep well. Each morning, we start over and serve. By Friday of the week, we are tired, but it is a fulfilled and appreciative tired. Packing up the clinic supplies, taking inventory, and getting everything readied to store for another year is bittersweet. During the bus ride to the airport in Tegucigalpa, the flight back to Michigan, I find myself lost in the faces of the children and adults that we serve. And the weeks after returning to the familiar confines of our office, I sometimes ask our friends questions that we used in Honduras – instead of English, it comes out in Spanish.
Thank you are supporting our desire to spend a week away and serve those that have nothing. Through our experience and photos, we know that you can sense that a piece of our hearts remains each year in Comayagua.