A gift to Mexico

Dec. 21, 2007
The author states, "When my feet land in Mexico, my heart feels content because I know my dental journey to give has begun."

by Barbara Briley

We hardly slept that night. My husband, Pat, and I had to be at the San Francisco Airport by 4:30 a.m. Sept. 27 to catch our flight to Mexico. By the time we packed and organized our home for the 14-day trip, our four-hour nap made us feel like we hadn't slept at all.

I weighed my luggage one more time before we left just to be on the safe side. I had 47 pounds of toothbrushes, toothpaste, children's dental literature, gloves and small toys. I was grateful to Plack Smaker Glove Company, Oral B and Sun Star/Butler, who gladly donated these items for my venture to Ixtapa.

My mother had made aprons to give away, and I had collected soaps, shampoos, hats, scarves and gently used clothing. I packed these with my personal things and my allowance of two suitcases was set. I convinced Pat to put back some of his clothes, and reminded him that we always overpack. This provided more room for the dental supplies I kept adding to the suitcase. Finally we were on our way. Mexico — here we come!

Working part time in the Salinas and Hollister, Calif., offices is something I look forward to, but it does not fulfill my desire to reach out to those far away. My trips to Mexico help fill that void. When my feet land in Mexico, my heart feels content because I know my dental journey to give has begun. The people, land and beaches have a way of taking away the worries of the hustle and bustle and responsibilities of day-to-day life.

In Ixtapa the people are simple, hard working and humble, and day-to-day life is slow. Most of the people in Ixtapa do not have a lot of money, but their riches lie within themselves and their culture. I was on vacation, but also on a mission to spread knowledge about dental hygiene to anyone who would listen! I talked to people in dental offices, Planned Parenthood offices, town squares, roadside homes and those selling their wares on the street. No one was exempt! I kept toothbrushes, toothpaste and small toys packed in my day bag and took it wherever Pat and I went. If one child got a toothbrush, word traveled fast that there was a strolling American handing out dental supplies.

Soon, I was surrounded by little hands and parents, and I had my captive audience to spread the word about hygiene. Yes, language can be a barrier and I was happy to have Pat as backup to help me translate. We had rented a car to search for that perfect wave (he's a surfboarder), which allowed me to find remote areas and small towns without transportation to share anything I had. Once we saw a lady walking a dusty road to sell her goods. We stopped and gave her a homemade apron. She was very happy to receive it, and for the next few days we saw her wearing her "American" apron.

We had traveled to Troncones, a small town outside of Ixtapa, the previous year. I had been disappointed to arrive and find the school dismissed for the day. We were leaving the next day, so all I could do was toss the toothbrushes and toothpaste through the open windows, which were protected by iron bars. I always wondered what they must have thought when they arrived at school the next day to see dental supplies scattered across the floors. A dental piñata, perhaps?

But this year I was able to return to Troncones and see the classrooms full of children. Second grade professor Angel Texta Valdovinos and third grade professor Candelario Rios Escolera were happy to take a break from teaching in the hot classrooms while I took pictures, passed out toothbrushes and discussed the importance of good oral care.

Another of my many stops was at an organization introduced to me by a lady named Gaby called "Children of the Dump." I learned about it four years ago while in Puerto Vallarta. They help feed hundreds of children who might not eat healthy meals otherwise. When Pat and I traveled to Puerto Vallarta, I made sure to donate my many extra samples that I had gathered at dental conventions. (Thanks for giving your samples freely. You never know where they may end up!)

Gaby told me about a place in Ixtapa that was affiliated with "The Children of the Dump." She gave me an address and description of the area via e-mail before I left the U.S. When I arrived in Ixtapa, I asked many of the locals about this location. No one knew where it was, but they knew of a place called Estancia Infantil, a daycare for children ages 47 days to four. While it was not the exact place I wanted to go, it turned out to be a great experience, and I learned a little more about how the government runs childcare in Ixtapa.

On Oct. 1, Pat and I arrived at the daycare surrounded with brightly colored cement walls and an iron gate that we had to buzz to get in. Once we identified ourselves and explained what we wanted to do, I had to show my RDH license (thank goodness I had it with me!) and a photo ID. The supervisor took photocopies and we signed the register.

We learned they had 18 maestras (teachers) working with the children. The daycare was a free service to the citizens as long as they could show a social security card. They had an ongoing waiting list of about 120 children. Maestras Lupita Silva Rosas and Magda Cervantes Ruelas took us to the classrooms. The children were dressed in different colored uniforms depending on their age. Even though it was 100 degrees outside and very warm inside the classrooms, I had a hard time containing my excitement. The kids were excited to have this strange American visit and speak broken Spanish to them. The teachers took photos, the cooks in the cafeteria peeked in to see what all the laughter was about, and as hot as it was, Pat kept running out to the car to get more toothbrushes, stickers and toothpaste. I felt content … mission accomplished. We were told we could return anytime.

I e-mailed Gaby and told her I wasn't able to find the right children's center. I was a little sad, but maybe it was God's way of saying my mission is not complete and I will return with my toothbrushes in hand. Who knows? Maybe my Spanish will be better by then!

Barbara Briley, an RDH since 1994, lives in Prunedale, CA, with her husband of 30 years who supports her ventures wholeheartedly. They have a son attending Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, and a married daughter who teaches high school PE in Fresno, CA. They also have a darling 10-month-old granddaughter, Rosilyn.