Some 1251 Saint Lucians were among the latest group of recipients benefitting from free dental care thanks to Great Shape! Inc and the Sandals Foundation.
Now in its third year in Saint Lucia, the “1000 Smiles Dental Project” continues to change people’s lives by relieving pain and suffering and educating the public about good dental hygiene practices.
The response to this initiative has been very positive and, as a result, the number of people who are treated has increased over the three years that the Great Shape dental teams have visited the island, with over 800 people attending the clinics in 2015 and almost 1000 persons in 2016.
This year the Great Shape team included 60 dental practitioners from all over the USA who volunteered their services over a two-week period providing free cleanings, fillings, extractions, sealants, fluoride and oral health education to persons from the communities of Anse La Raye and Marchand.
Joseph Wright, Executive Director of Great Shape! Inc, added: “Teams also provided three days of service to over 35 inmates at the Bordelais Correctional Facility. This is the first time in the project’s 15-year history that we’ve worked inside a prison or jail and it was a heart-opening experience for all.”
Wright went on to thank Superintendent Verne Guarde for the invitation to come into the institution.
Running from July 17 to 28, the 1000 Smiles Project delivered services, time and supplies valued at over USD$415,000.
Said Wright, “We completed 3,283 procedures for 947 patients and provided oral health instruction to 309 people. In addition, we gave away over 2,600 toothbrushes, paste and floss combined. The lines were long and some people waited days to be seen, but appreciation was shown with big hugs, warm smiles and even the occasional coconut.”
While this humanitarian activity is operated by Great Shape! Inc. (a 501 c 3 nonprofit founded in Oregon, USA in 1988), it is made possible because of a close and longstanding partnership with the Sandals Foundation.
Great Shape has worked in the Caribbean for over 15 years, bringing medical teams who give up their vacation time to volunteer in underserved communities, while Sandals Resorts and the Sandals Foundation provide accommodation, local transportation and logistical support for the clinics.
This collaboration with Great Shape 1000 Smiles forms part of a continued investment by the Sandals Foundation in the health of the people in the region, and to date, over US$3M has been invested in room stays for the participating teams since the onset of the program.
For its part, Executive Director of the Sandals Foundation said, “We are proud of our association with the Great Shape organization, and so grateful to the hundreds of volunteers for the generous donation of time and service to our communities over the years.”
“Our team loves the welcome they get from our friends at Sandals after a hard day’s work,” commented Wright, adding, “Another important partner is Saint Lucia’s Ministry of Health which provides the permission, registration and staffing support to make the volunteer trip possible. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Ephraim, Mrs. Cherry and their teams for the many hours of work in facilitating our team.”
Of his hardworking volunteers, Wright said, “Something about Saint Lucia touches the heart of every volunteer that comes. In the process of helping, our volunteers find their own lives have been changed forever with fond memories of a warm and friendly people, unparalleled natural beauty and the rich fulfillment of knowing they made a positive difference in the world – one smile at a time.”
“Perhaps one of the most poignant moments of this year’s trip was when a 20-something female patient came into our clinic in the sleepy fishing village of Anse La Raye. Her upper front teeth were half-blackened and soon would be lost forever. But with the expert skills of our volunteers, all the teeth were filled and her beautiful smile was saved. When the patient looked in the mirror she cried uncontrollably, and we learned that her wedding date was approaching in the coming weeks…evidence that this project really does change people’s lives.”