When opportunity comes knocking, its a good idea to open the door and welcome it right into your life! Last year one such opportunity showed up on my doorstep. I was asked to participate in a dental mission organized by a friend who happens to be an instructor of Dental Hygiene at a Technical College in Pennsylvania. For years Rhonda has organized dental service trips to impoverished countries. Working in partnership with organizations here and abroad, she and a group of dedicated student-technicians serve elementary school aged children who otherwise would not receive care. They have provided education, cleanings, fluoride treatments and dental sealants to hundreds, if not thousands of children. It had been my desire for years to one day take part in a mission trip but personal obligations always seemed to make it difficult to follow through.
In the winter of 2016 Rhonda and I were both in attendance at a local event. Asking where her group was headed this coming year she didn’t skip a beat. “We are going to the Dominican Republic! Why don’t you join us?”
Pausing I asked, “What value could I possibly provide? I have no formal training in dental hygiene and I don’t speak Spanish!” The fact remains that in years of work with organizations on numerous committees focused on charitable efforts throughout the United States, I had never participated in a service project outside of this country.
“I will be bringing a group of female students between the ages of 18 and 22 overseas to work with children in very poor communities throughout the Dominican Republic. Some of these young ladies have never been out of the United States. Some of them have never traveled by plane. Some of them have never even been out of Pennsylvania. They have no idea what to expect.”
The truth be told, neither did I.
“I could use someone with your skills who can help me stay organized and focused as we deliver a suite of preventative dental services in an unpredictable work environment.” She went on to explain, “We will be bringing along our own equipment, supplies and setting up mini clinics in hot classrooms by putting desks together to use as exam tables while making do with what we can carry and not much else.” She laughed and with her great big signature smile said, “Doesn’t that sound fun?”
It made sense. It would take more than technical help to make it run seamlessly. The smoother it ran, the more children they could serve. Although in that moment, it didn’t really sound like very much fun, nor did it seem to be the best use of my skills. But the old childhood adage echoed in my brain. What you put into the lives of others, comes back into your own.
“It would be invaluable if you came along to help me lead this group of young women who will undoubtably experience varying degrees of angst and trepidation about being so far away in rural areas of a foreign place which lacks many of the modern conveniences we take for granted here in our country.” Supporting young women’s ambitions, encouraging their participation, empowering their confidence through service, and keeping them on track by helping them set goals and work toward achieving them. Now she had my attention.
But what she said next hit me in the heart. “Most importantly, when you’re not doing all of the above, you could act as the Hugger in Chief for all the young children who will be anxiously awaiting their turn in line.” That was it. I am a great Hugger. SOLD!
Next stop, infectious disease doctor for shots to combat malaria, typhoid, hepatitis A&B, cholera, yellow fever, rabies, and influenza. Let the fun begin!
What unfolded during those eight days in the Dominican Republic was nothing short of magical. Our group branched out into Santo Domingo, Las Terranes and surrounding regions scattered throughout the DR. To make a difference in the lives of young children who would not otherwise have access to dental care and see the smiles on their faces was heartwarming. To set up an impromptu makeshift clinic in the dirt alleyway of a small community of one room huts void of electricity and running water was surreal. To aid in the administration of extemporaneous dental care to adults who had never seen a dentist is inexplicable. To work alongside a seasoned dental professional and longtime friend was energizing. To mentor and lead a group of selfless, motivated young ladies as they embarked upon their first service mission was a reward in and of itself. I am forever grateful that Rhonda saw a purpose for my participation in this particular trip.
There was not a dry eye in our group as we boarded a plane 8 days later back to the US feeling very fulfilled albeit exhausted. You could hear the quiet chatter before the ladies drifted off to sleep. They spoke of how helping others made them feel good inside; how they felt empowered. Excitedly, they made plans to return and serve again in the near future. Many agreed that it was the best experience of their life. I knew my own mission had only just begun, sensing the return would be part of a bigger plan and not the least bit worried about figuring it out. In the months to come, the plan would evidence itself.
April, 2018. The one month countdown for a return to the DR begins with Rhonda and a new group of students. Most unexpectedly, a call came from Jose Bourget, President of the *Fundación Mahatma Gandhi, **ACES’ partner in the DR. He presented a forum to utilize my skills as a coach along with experience as a motivational speaker to address a group of Dominican women in Las Terranes; women of varied sectors representing government agencies, professional groups and private organizations. We discussed a presentation focused on the holistic development of women and their vision of leadership in their community. A special presentation (which would utilize an interpreter) for women who have broken through the barriers in a culture where traditionally a woman’s place has been in the home, catering to the needs the many people who depend on her. It was an opportunity I had never dreamed possible.
Setting out on a career path as a coach and speaker, my focus was channeled on providing professional leadership services. The goal was to help other women attain a heightened level of excellence and balance in their everyday lives through utilizing the power of positive perspective. Inspiration is drawn from personal challenges and accomplishments, experience, and knowledge gained over the years as a wife, mother, friend and entrepreneur. There is not a more worthwhile cause nor better use of time than championing other women all across the globe as they rise. When we support the growth of women young and old, we raise the quality of life for everyone. This is because when women lead they not only lead in their professional life, they lead in their home and their community; they fight for their children; and collectively they spotlight issues that are important to our future.
This amazing new opportunity in the Dominican Republic is a born out of a willingness to open the door, step beyond a comfort zone, take a chance, embrace the unknown and serve others. It takes the alacrity to say “Yes, I can and I will” instead of “No, I can’t and I won’t”. We live in a world where opportunity abounds. Adapt an open door policy! Beyond that door awaits a multitude of options to grow and learn; endless possibilities where you can make a difference in the lives of others. Ultimately you will find, the biggest difference it will make will be in your own life.
“There is a destiny which makes us brothers; none goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others, comes back into our own.”- Edwin Markham
*Fundación Mahatma Gandhi (FMG) is a service-oriented, not-for-profit, community organization that seeks to better the quality of life of people in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, through education, health, technical and professional formation, the environment and the arts (www.fundacionmahatmagandhi.com). It is a volunteer, community development organization. Since its foundation in 2005, FMG runs the only free-access community library with 14,000 books in seven languages, produces summer camps, promotes environmental education including the restoration of mangroves and the local river. Among many other grassroot projects, it supports capacity building in neighborhood organizations and operates Las Terrenas International School, a bilingual educational center, only of its kind in the region. It was founded by Jose R. Bourget and Annette M. Snyder who’ve led the organization as full-time volunteers. All events are operated by volunteers and funded with donations from interested audiences.
**ACES (Advancing Communities by Educating and Serving) is a non-profit organization that works tirelessly to improve the lives of impoverished people in the Dominican Republic. While realizing the necessity of temporary relief at times, the primary focus of ACES is on sustainable solutions that will eliminate poverty and improve the standard of living for the long-term. By working to build rapport with communities, they are able to identify the most pressing needs in health, education and business.