MARBLEHEAD — Lauren Cohen was sure that her mother was joking when she told Lauren she’d like to join her on her university-sponsored Global Brigades service trip to Honduras.
Lauren, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, had long planned to join the service trip. As a philosophy-neuroscience-psychology major with a minor in children’s studies, she plans to attend dental school, and Global Brigade’s focus on providing basic medical and dental care to people with limited access melds with her interests.
After Caryn, a dental hygienist, convinced her daughter that she sincerely wanted to offer her valuable skills, Lauren was excited to make it a family effort.
“I always wanted to do something like this, but the opportunity never came up,” said Caryn, who has 30 years of dental hygiene experience and works with her husband, Dr. Barry Cohen, a dentist, in his Winthrop office.
The mother-daughter duo from Marblehead joined 32 others on the mission early last month, travelling to a remote and mountainous region of Honduras. The group, which included four doctors and two dentists, was divided into both a medical and dental brigade, but they worked together as one team. It was the first time a dental hygienist had been a part of Washington University’s Global Brigade’s team.
Area residents lined up each of the three days the team was there to receive care in a mobile dental and medical unit set up at a school. A mobile pharmacy was also available, where people could obtain a 3-months supply of prescriptions. With the assistance of student translators, a total of 750 patients, from small children through seniors in their seventies, were treated. Caryn performed 40 cleanings, while dentists did fillings and extractions.
“It felt so good to be able to help out these people,” said Caryn, adding that, in some cases, she had never seen so much build-up that needed to be cleaned. “People were so grateful and couldn’t thank us enough.”
In addition to shadowing the health professionals, the students helped people fill out medical forms and worked with children to provide dental education and hand out supplies.
“My main role was entertaining and teaching the kids about dental hygiene,” said Lauren, 21, explaining that the students used a puppet that Caryn provided to teach about the proper way to brush teeth. They made the lessons fun by singing songs. “I was able to do that with my high school Spanish,” she said.
Hundreds of toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, donated by the Cohens, members of Congregation Shirat Hayam of Swampscott, were distributed, along with 2-minute timers (the recommended time to brush teeth) and coloring books in Spanish.
“The kids loved it,” Lauren said. “I could see how much we could do to help with few resources. People were sitting in desk chairs for fillings, extractions and cleanings. All it takes is a desk chair and a few tools, or a toothbrush, toothpaste and a song in Spanish. We shouldn’t shy away from care just because you think it won’t be enough… Three days won’t change an entire community, but by sending brigades every few months, all these little things chip away at what is wrong, slowly but surely getting them on their feet and to the point where they can sustain themselves and live healthy, happy lives.”
“It was rewarding to help the people of Honduras and also help the students,” added Caryn. “I would do it again.”