Volunteering as a Paravocation

Volunteering as a Paravocation

Lewis H. Pierce, D.D.S., M.S.*:

Many fine articles have been written in this journal by dentists, hygienists, and assistants on volunteering in different settings, either locally, in the United States, or throughout  the world. And the same questions are asked by many: What would you say to inspire others to become involved in humanitarian service? 

First, each of us has to analyze our inventory – our own talents, abilities, and opportunities of influence – and see what it is that we have been given for the benefit of others. Second, I would say we need to be proactive; we need to search for opportunities to help other people have better lives. Third, whenever I have volunteered, I never have found it to be a sacrifice; it has always been a blessing to me, a very gratifying experience. 

In every case, when I thought I was doing someone else a favor by providing dental care, building a school, or teaching ESL (English as a second language), I received much more out of it than I put into it. There is a quote by an unidentified Aboriginal woman: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, then let us work together.”

Another questions I hear is, Based on your experience of living and working in more than 20 countries, why should people be hopeful in regard to humanitarian assistance? 

First of all, we have to be aware of what is going on in the rest of the world. For the past six years, I have worked with NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) doing dental care in Tanzania, Ghana, The Dominican Republic, and Mexico. This care is in small villages where the patients will walk for four to five hours and stay for several days to have dental care done, then walk back home.  Many have never seen a dentist. That is almost inconceivable to prosperous and satisfi ed Americans. Just stop for a few minutes and think how you would survive if you had very little or no dental and medical care. To give people care gives them hope so that they can live better lives, lives without pain and suffering.

I am also often asked, “Within the realm of humanitarian service, what NGOs or projects really inspire you?” 

Several with which I have worked firsthand come to mind. There is LIGA International (LIGA@ligainternational.org), an organization which has had programs in Guatemala and Mexico for 77 years. Physicians and dentists fly into these countries out of Arizona and California and work in day clinics that were built and staffed by volunteers. The dental treatment consists of extractions, restorations, some root canal treatment, and many fluoride and sealant treatments. Dr. Fred Kalinoff, a retired dentist from Stillwater, has been on 25 trips to Mexico and Guatemala. I have had the opportunity to do two service trips to Mexico with him and am planning to do two to three trips to Mexico and  Guatemala each year. 

The second NGO is Medical Teams International (www.medicalteams.org ), with headquarters in Portland, Oregon and Bellevue, Washington. They have 11 vans in Oregon and  Washington and now have one van in the Twin Cities area. Since the van arrived in May, 2011, they have seen 282 patients and done nearly $125,000 of in-kind dental care. Their schedule and sign up sheet can be found at www.signupgenius/com/go/clinic 14/1350907. Nearly 900 dental professionals volunteer on the 11 mobile dental vans annually,  and they have brought life-changing care to more than 150,000 people in 18 years. They are also in 28 countries working with grassroots organizations dealing with health care  issues. The Twin Cities dental van is currently seeking dentists, hygienists, and assistants. 

The third NGO is NIP (Neighborhood Involvement Program, www.neighborgoodinvolve.org) in Minneapolis. Their mission is to strengthen individuals and the community by providing  quality health care, education, and social services to underserved neighbors. They have a very contemporary two-chair dental clinic, and they have a hygienist who is a staff member and coordinates the clinic.  NIP opened in 1972, and the dental services were added a year later. It provides low-cost dental services to lowincome, uninsured, and underinsured people. In 2010, it provided 2,222 dental visits for 869 patients. 

In closing, let me tell you about beautiful, but painfully shy, young high school girl who showed up in our clinic in Tanzania. One afternoon, she presented herself apologetically, and when she opened her mouth, there was a line of deep decay all across her front teeth. I spent two hours filling in her front teeth with white composite.  When we finished, I  gave her a mirror. Slowly a wide grin of joy spread across her face. She had a new lease on life. 

Consider yourself invited to connect through one of these local or international service channels and offer your talent and skill. 

As President Jimmy Carter put it, “All of us … have an opportunity and an obligation, maybe a duty, to take a portion of our good fortune and inves tit in helping others.” 


*Dr. Pierce is a retired prosthodontist living in Minneapolis, and has worked in 25 countries during the past 40 years. Email is lhpiercedds@gmail.com