On the third day of Field Based Training, I somehow landed in a project that hits close to home--- dental hygiene.
Those of you who know me well may be familiar with the 12 or so cavities I had filled and the 4 root canals I've had within the past 2 years. I think it was 12 cavities... maybe 14. After awhile, you just lose count. Anyway, I saw my dentist perhaps more than I saw my own siblings last year. This kind of situation makes one care about what's going on with the pearly whites. For example, I came to Peru with at least $100 worth of prescription toothpaste, 6 toothbrushes (one that I carry in my backpack at all times), and plenty of floss. Since being here, I've sought out mouthwash with fluoride, I've hit up the medical officers for free floss, and I've convinced Joe to send me more floss and my retainer. I care about dental health... a whole lot. In case you weren't around for the rough dental days, or don't remember, here's a little flashback-
So it is no wonder that teaching kids to brush their teeth was something that I loved. It was one of those things that you don't realize is awesome until it's happening. On Monday night our whole group was asked to choose a topic to discuss with the kids the following day: toothbrushing, hand washing, self esteem, or the environment. Of my group of three that I worked with last week, I was the only one there to choose for us from these topics. Making a split decision so that we didn't end up with environment, I shouted "toothbrushing!" I don't know why I didn't want to teach environment stuff that day, or what pushed me toward dental cleanliness, but it was the right choice.
Tuesday morning on our way to Tumpa, the site of this activity, I made a last minute list of words I thought I might need. After interrogating a few native/ experienced speakers, I was ready. I wish I could have captured the looks on the faces of those innocent people I frantically approached sputtering, "how do you say 'gums?' 'Bristles?' 'Germs?'" Sigh. One of these days, I will stop being such a Gringa.
The next thing I knew I was hiking about a mile away from the rest of our group with my 2 counterparts and our host Veronica, the current volunteer in Tumpa who was helping us with this session. We quickly learned that we were going to a 2 room classroom up the mountain. The classroom we would work with was for children ages 6-11.
Flash forward about 15 minutes and I'm standing in front of a room full of kids desperately trying to explain, in Spanish of course, the concept of cavities. my method of choice was drawing a "plaque monster" on the chalkboard. I think I failed in my mission. My "plaque monster" looked like an amoeba with feet. The idea of germs digging holes in their teeth seemed to go over a little better, but maybe by then they just learned that nodding would make the Gringa stop talking. Who knows?...
In the midst of my failed attempt to relay the gravity of this issue, I was carried back to the days of my youth in curiosity of how I first learned this stuff. Soon, I was drifting off into a memory of a poorly animated cartoon and a giant toothbrush. For the past week, I've been wondering about what's on YouTube in terms of cartoon educational tooth videos in Spanish and how I can get my hands on a giant toothbrush. If you have any suggestions, let me know. I could use some resources on this one.
Following my sophisticated lecture was the fun part of the day: toothbrushing! The health post gave us toothbrushes/ paste to give the kids so we split them up in groups and taught each one of them how it was done. To my surprise, most of them had no idea how to hold a toothbrush or what to do first. They caught on quickly and did great. I will not soon forget the looks on their faces when they felt a toothbrush in their mouths for the first time. We showed them their teeth in mirrors during and after the brushing, and you could see the curiosity in their eyes. Later, most of them admitted that they had never done this before. After I had decided that they would all be too shy to ask questions, this adorable little girl approached me and asked in a near whisper how to best care for her teeth from now on. I was touched. She got an ear full of suggestions on what to do. By the time I was done with her, we accumulated an entire crowd of her friends. This time instead of just nodding, they listened intently and asked more questions. It was great. The next morning I woke up wondering how many of them had brushed their teeth the night before or that morning. If the answer was even one, I'd be tickled.
Now I just need to somehow acquire some tooth videos, or a tooth suit to wear, or some sort of captivating props to improve my next session. The informative piece of the talk needs some work. Overall though, I feel good about this one. Just doing a little bit of life changing... just another day at the office. lol