A team of dentists – including a trio from the Semiahmoo Peninsula – are in Vietnam continuing efforts to brighten the smiles of some of the country’s youngest residents.
Ken Stones, Les Ennis and Lange Soo, along with dental hygienist Deborah McDonald and five others, left April 13 to work with East Meets West, an NGO that has a permanent dental clinic in Da Nang City.
If the trip is anything like those Stones has participated in or organized in the past, by the time they return home the Semiahmoo Dental Outreach Team will have seen and treated hundreds of children, most of whom had never been to a dentist before.
Last November, during a return trip to the Philippine island of Siquijor, they saw more than 700 patients over an eight-day period. In Vietnam three years ago, they saw more than 650 patients.
Stones has participated in nearly two dozen such trips since 1994.
Despite the frequency, he said the satisfaction that comes from doing them has not dulled.
“We still get pretty pumped,” he said of team members.
Their patients’ gratitude is “overwhelming and humbling,” he added.
Part of the thrill for Stones comes in seeing the impact the work has on those who are lending a hand for the first time.
“For some of them, it changes their focus,” he said. “It lets them know just how incredibly fortunate we are… and how little people have in some other parts of the world.
“You don’t need a couple of SUVs to be happy.”
He added that of Richmond high school students who have participated in the past, four who hadn’t considered a career in dentistry before the trips are now pursuing it.
Part of each mission trip is focused on education and training locals, so that the work may continue after the volunteers have left.
Donations to the cause – $2,800 was raised locally prior to the last Siquijor trip – typically help buy dental supplies or provide assistance to the local schools.
The funds go a long way, Stones said.
“For $3,000, we can exam all of the school kids and give them prescription glasses,” he said.
In addition to returning to Siquijor in November, Stones is planning a similar trip to the Solomon Islands next year. Contacted about the work his team does by a dentist in Sydney, Australia, he said it is a destination he has had his eye on since 1974.
The team is due back from Vietnam on May 12.