Since 2011, IUSD has participated in immersive service learning trips to Guatemala with Dr. Odette Aguirre, faculty member and alumna of dental school in Guatemala. Familiar with the native culture, language, customs, and geography, Dr. Aguirre is a valuable resource in helping students understand important social determinants of oral health in Guatemala and make meaningful comparisons between the US and Guatemalan oral health status. IUSD students have multiple opportunities to serve in Guatemala: over spring or summer break, and more recently in late December. For one of the program locations, students provide care at the Konojel Community Clinic in the remote San Marcos La Laguna, which is a center that provides children’s programs, sustainability instruction, and women’s training programs for at-risk individuals of the area. Alternatively students spend a week at a different location near Antigua treating patients at the Open Windows Foundation, one of the region’s largest children’s center that provides local students educational services and programs to improve their life options and self-sufficiency. Both trips are co-led by Dr. Aguirre and Dr. Maria Eugenia Castillo, who is an experienced local Guatemalan dentist and faculty member at the Universidad de San Carlos dental school, so along with learning different dental procedures, students are able to gain unique insight into differences in dental education between the US and Guatemala. Along with treating patients, students also give presentations about the importance of oral hygiene and oral care to parents. Both trips emphasize the importance of collaboration in healthcare, which is achieved through performing procedures alongside local dentists and nurses. Cultural awareness is equally emphasized through educational excursions, close interaction with local villagers, and practice speaking Spanish.
“The GSL trip to Guatemala was an extremely rewarding experience that also enhanced my dental education with a week of treating almost exclusively children. As a student interested in pursuing a specialty in pediatric dentistry, I would highly recommend this trip to other students interested in pediatrics as well. I really liked how volunteering at a children’s day care center allowed us to treat the same children throughout the week, which allowed to complete more thorough dental treatment that each child might need. In addition, the patients, parents, and staff at the daycare were extremely welcoming and grateful for our help. For example, one family cancelled their family trip when they heard we were coming, and the dad was so grateful he insisted on doing something for us, which we refused. He ended up going to the store next door and bought us waters and told us that his son told him the night before that “all of his dreams came true.” When his dad asked him what he meant, the child responded, “I don’t have tooth pain anymore.” This was extremely humbling and has motivated me to seek more experiences like this trip. It was also a lot of fun working closely with Dr. Aguirre and Dr. Castillo in the clinic – their presence was extremely helpful in making sure the clinic ran efficiently, and their extensive knowledge of Guatemala made the group feel comfortable exploring the city and interacting with local families!