A life changing experience
Upon our marriage almost one year ago, Shannon and I created a charitable foundation, Solstice 620. The mission is to create sustainable improvement to the lives of people in need by connecting them with professionals who are eager to donate their time, expertise, skills and unique abilities towards helping
others in places where they can make a significant difference and sustainable impact.
Thus our first mission, to the Merendon Mountains of Guatemala evolved, this past April.
Shannon and I had never experienced being in a third-world country, and we are still processing the experience. We flew into Guatemala City to meet our friends and colleague, Dr. Russell Grover from Toronto, his wife Heidi, and their team. After a 7-hour bus ride into the mountains, escorted by militia, we arrived in La Union, our base in the Merendon Mountains.
Guatemala is a beautiful country of mountains, volcanoes, rainforests, and flowers. A country that loves bright colors, it is definitely a place for the senses. Sadly, among this beauty there are areas of abject poverty. There are places that make you feel as though you were transported back a hundred years or more in time. The Merendon Mountains is one of those places. The Mayan Chorti people, who reside
there, live in adobe huts with dirt floors. Families of 8, 10, and more people live in 2 and 3 rooms. Children are dying of respiratory problems from the wood burning stoves used in poorly ventilated homes. Children are having children, with no hope of changing their lives because they do not know better and they have no way to get off the mountain. They suffer from malnutrition and mouths full of decay. On the faces of children, we saw excitement at the expectation of getting a gift. The adults had a stoic look of acceptance.
The first day in the mountains Shannon and I had such excitement for what we were going to do and accomplish. By the end of the week were just overwhelmed with what needed to be done. This was our first mission but it will not be our last!
Our days in the mountains began with packing up our instruments, anesthetics, and pain medications and jumping into the back of a pickup truck for the drive even further up the mountain. It would take us up winding rough gravel roads through the most breathtaking parts of the Guatemalan Mountains. The scenic views were incredible; however, the poverty was equally profound. Mainly children and women waited for hours in the sun to be treated in makeshift clinics with only the supplies and equipment
we were able to carry into the villages.
Our time was spent extracting often 4 to 6 severely decayed and blackened teeth from the mouths of children. The adult conditions were equally disturbing. Many of these people went to bed each night with severe toothaches and with no hope of relief, treatment, or medication.
When we would take a break and pick up our heads, all we could see were the endless lines of people waiting for basic dental care.The appreciation of our own lives and the experience that comes from getting to know the gentle, loving, and compassionate people in Guatemala has truly affected Shannon and me forever. The heartfelt gratitude of the communities we visited in the mountains was palpable. It was truly a life-changing experience!
Yours in continued dental health,
Dr. David Silverstrom