My first trip to Jamaica, to a Sandals resort, and to a 1,000 Smiles volunteer dental project, far exceeded any wild dreams I had about the experience.
Most notable was the friendliness and gratitude expressed by the people of Jamaica. This included the hospitality of the staff at the world class Sandals resort where the food and facilities are nearly incomparable. (When planning this trip, add a few extra days in addition to the volunteer week to more fully experience the resort.)
This program consisted of nearly 50 volunteers from the US and Canada as well as several Jamaicans who provided necessary support, organization, and communication help. The four dental clinics in which we worked were all within an hour’s drive of the Sandals resort, including, Grange Hill, New Market, Black River, and Whitehouse.
To get us started, we attended an orientation meeting moderated by founder, Papa Joe, who was informative and helpful in creating the proper expectations for the week. In addition, Joe gave us some history of Jamaica and a rudimentary language lesson on Patois, the local conversational language that is very difficult to understand. He explained Jamaican culture and stressed the pride the Jamaicans possess and the high degree of respect we should show when interacting with them.
The dental clinic in Grange Hill was fully set up when we arrived, as were those in the three other locations. Roshane, a local volunteer had set up the clinic prior to our arrival and reviewed the operation and maintenance of the A-dec units with us on Sunday before we started seeing patients on Monday.
Although the hotel provided our lunches, we elected to chip in $20 each and have three native women prepare a hot lunch of local food. The hotel food was distributed to our patients waiting in line for care.
This experience was the highlight of my professional career so far! It even topped working with Operation Blessing in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina.
One of the comments I overheard from a volunteer staff member was “I’m missing two weeks of pay because it feels right.”
Sandals Resorts, based in Jamaica, is an outstanding national corporate citizen. They have provided millions of dollars worth of lodging and services to Great Shape! that in turn has provided care for thousands upon thousands of Jamaicans.
· Great Shape! was influential in the creation of a new Jamaican dental and dental hygiene school.
· A research study has been undertaken in the schools to evaluate the success of a new sealant.
· 1,000 Smiles works to involve parents in the care of their children’s teeth as well as in the placement of sealants.
· The goal is to make the program sustainable through the education and use of Jamaicans.
· Tipping is not allowed at Sandals. An employee could be fired for accepting a tip.
· Toys for the children are appreciated. One dentist brought a suitcase of deflated soccer balls that were a hit.
· All children wear uniforms to school. Sandals/Great Shape! provides funding for those who can’t afford a uniform.
· Students who are late for school are locked out for the day.
· Jamaicans are very appreciative of the care provided.
· It is hot. Bring a sweatband to wear around your head to prevent salty sweat from stinging the eyes. (That can be annoying during a difficult extraction!)
· Bring disposable gowns to wear over your scrubs.
. The program is usually held in the Fall.
· Cost of the trip may range from $1,500 – $3,000 including a $700 program fee, airfare, and disposable supplies. This fee can be on the lower range with donated rather than purchased supplies. Also, an experienced volunteer has said, “this program is the best value on the planet.”
· Shortly after registration a comprehensive list of supplies/materials to acquire is sent out to participants with instructions about the program.
· Supplies/materials must be packed and shipped about two months prior to arrival.
· Some teams of hygienists went into schools to provide education to hundreds of elementary school children.
· It is a good idea to bring surgical burs and a Ligmaject syringe.
· Bring aqua socks, particularly if going to the Pelican Bar on the reef on Saturday after the program.
· If wanting to SCUBA dive (free), bring your dive card.
· Pharmaceutical supplies should be shipped ahead of time.
· Volunteers must have flexible attitudes and be prepared to “go with the flow”
· Two equipment specialists were on hand through the week to manage any equipment problems.