"The smiles on their faces say it all. It's why we do it: spend a week in the mountains of rural Jamaica working in extreme conditions to provide dental care to people in need. The entire experience is life changing and we've all made Jamaican friends we will have forever!" says Jim Duran, Lab Manager at Carolina Dentures in Ocala and The Villages, FL.
In January, Duran and his fiancé, Sherryann Gaumer, formerly a technician at Affordable Dentures, Inc. in Weeki Wachee, FL, joined three other technicians--Gabe Carrillo, Brooke White and Kay Langley--five dentists, five dental assistants and three hygienists for a week-long mission.
The volunteers set up a make-shift clinic and laboratory in the Light of the Valley United Church in Clarendon, located on the southern side of the island. In addition to extracting 500 teeth and cleanings, they fabricated approximately 200 dentures for patients, some of whom walked five to 10 miles to get to the clinic. Temperatures exceeded 85oF and there was no running water in the church; they filled buckets with water from spigots in the street. "These are things you have to work around. You can imagine how much water you need for cleaning teeth, sterilizing, etc. We had generators to help with electricity but the breaker kept popping and we had no air conditioning in extreme heat," says Duran.
The mission is organized by the Presbytery of St. Augustine in West Jacksonville, FL, in partnership with a group of United, Moravian and Methodist churches in Jamaica. The volunteers cover their own costs to participate and donate many of the supplies and equipment. This year, for instance, Duran and Gaumer donated a lathe.
Mission founders Dr. Jim Gaff and his wife, Sharon, are in the process of outfitting a 40-foot mobile home with a diesel generator that will primarily be used as a denture lab. It will have all the essentials, including electricity, water, air conditioning and gas. "We hope to have it ready for our January 2013 Dental Mission and will ship it to Jamaica by boat. It will enable us to access more rural areas and see even more patients," says Gaff.
This is Duran's sixth mission, Gaumer's first--and both will definitely go again. "It's amazing to change people's lives in this way and I'm grateful to have been a part of it. It certainly makes me feel blessed!" says Gaumer.
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