Every year for the last four years, in the middle of June, former childhood friends and dentists by occupation, Dr. Donald DeLuke and Dr. Barry Loffredo of Schenectady, N.Y. begin their phone calls to each other to plan their annual week-long January dental missionary trip to Cuanacaxtitlan in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico. Over 100 calls are made by departure time. Attention to a myriad of details is the key to a successful trip. Supplies, instruments, equipment, personnel and government paperwork are among the areas that must be looked after.
The project (brainchild of sister parish committees of St. Helen’s and Our Lady of Fatima Churches in Schenectady, N.Y. in conjunction with former St. Agustin pastor Fr. Massimo Segú, PIME) seeks to deliver dental care to needy communities in Guerrero. Using pick-up trucks, plastic picnic tables for dental chairs and an electric-powered suction unit, care is delivered to them in their remote villages. The conditions the dentists work under are primitive compared to their private offices at home, sometimes without electricity and running water. They use battery powered head lamps for illumination. Objectives are (1) pain relief (the majority of the services provided are extraction of infected teeth); (2) dental education in the elementary schools; and (3) salvaging some teeth with fillings (service yet to be delivered due to equipment glitches). On this year’s trip they saw 252 patients and removed 550 teeth.
Besides three dentists, personnel typically consist of several pre-dental students and dental hygiene students selected from local colleges around Schenectady. All team members pay for their own airfare, room and board. This year PIME “Big Gun” Fr. Giorgio Ferrara was in attendance and proved to be an invaluable liaison. He helped to create a bond between the doctors and Fr. Graziano Rota, PIME. Fr. Rota was an excellent host in PIME’s mission parish, San Agustin. He rewarded the group each day with delectable meals and earned the title “Hotel Rotel”. The group didn’t dare complain about cold showers.
The efforts to make this trip successful are often great. Numerous obstacles must be overcome. The first year, $20,000 worth of dental instruments was confiscated by Mexican customs officials. Only through the resourcefulness of Fr. Massismo Segú, PIME, St. Agustin’s pastor and their host for 2009, 2010 and 2011, were they able to borrow instruments from a Mexican dentist on holiday and proceed with their work. Other obstacles included travel. Last year the team traveled over 600 miles on often unpaved roads through mountainous regions which sometimes had them driving through streams and other tough terrain. Additional problems included the language barrier. The team created a translation page which included key phrases to know while working such as “open your mouth” and “close your mouth.” The translation page proved of no value in the very remote communities inhabited by Mixtecos (Mayan descendants with their own culture and language). There they spoke with hand gestures.
The dentists started their plans for next year’s trip before they even arrived back to Schenectady! They are always looking to avert problems encountered and find ways to improve the delivery of their mission.
Fr. Giorgio Ferrara, PIME accompanied the dentists and students to Cuana this year. He was inspired by their dedication and willingness to volunteer their talents for the good of the people in the missions. These fine men and women took time out of their busy lives and traveled at their own expense.
“The dental students who went on the trip showed a great joy to be in service to those in need. Their willingness to help was impressive. The students and the dentists showed such professionalism. More than once I noticed the dentists take extra special measures to care for the people. There was great attention to detail. One of the things I noticed in the group was the constant smiles on their faces. They had such joy – even when we were faced with challenges, like not having electricity.
“The people in the missions were so happy to welcome the dental team. Although the people were poor, they came forward with donations of food for the group. They showed such gratitude and respect for the dental team. For the poor of Cuana, dental care is a luxury. Many of the children had never even seen a toothbrush, and those that did perhaps did not know how to use one. The trip there was very beneficial for all.”
The PIME Missionaries are Catholic priests and brothers who commit themselves to lifelong missionary services, but they can’t do alone. Will you help PIME Missionaries make a difference in crossing cultures and transforming lives through the Gospel?
Find Us Online: https://pimeusa.org/