Father and son share uplifting volunteer experience
Community: Brad and Connor Fogel with Dentistry for All
By: John Barlow
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 11:48 am
In a makeshift surgical room the Canadian dental surgeon looked over the young girl’s badly decayed teeth. Almost 30 of her teeth would have to be removed and only a local anesthetic could be used.
It was going to be a long, grueling ordeal for the Guatemalan teenager. She put on a brave face as she braced herself for the hours of surgery.
Seeing what she was about to endure a young Canadian teenager sat down beside the young girl and without a word quietly held her hand and smiled. He stayed with her during the entire procedure, providing the girl with some reassurance she was not alone and would be all right.
This is just one of the many incidents Connor Fogel experienced during his adventure to Guatemala with his father Brad last month.
“I could not believe how brave she was,” said Connor. “She went through the whole thing and never complained once.”
The two Okotokians volunteered with Dentistry for All during a 12-day excursion to provide dental care to people in a remote rural village.
For Brad, it was an incredible experience to be able to provide much needed health care to the villagers and more so to be able to do so with his son.
“It was one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life,” said Brad. “You only have one chance to do something for the first time.”
Although Brad said he was ecstatic they were able to bring these essential services to people who do not have regular dental care, one of the lasting memories will be seeing how his son responded to what, at times, were difficult situations.
He said during the debriefing at the end of the day it was his teenage son who received the most accolades from the dentists and other volunteers for his work during the day.
“It was incredibly overwhelming to hear people talk so passionately about my son and the work he was doing,” said Brad. “I am extremely proud.”
Connor was sterilizing the equipment for the dentists and at times his job became quite stressful as he tried to keep pace. The dentists who were part of the group saw hundreds of patients a day.
Even Connor said he was surprised with how quickly he became immersed in the work all the volunteers were doing.
“Everyone was surprised with how hard I worked and how well I fit in with everyone,” he said. “It was an interesting experience and I wanted to be involved otherwise I would feel like I just went there. I wanted to help change people’s lives.”
Connor, a Grade 11 student at Holy Trinity Academy in Okotoks, admitted he was anxious about the journey, but he acquitted himself quite well.
“It was definitely more than I could have expected,” said Connor. “When my dad first brought it up and I did not think it was a big deal, but as it got closer I was a little nervous — I was going to a foreign country where I didn’t know the language with people I didn’t know.”
After he returned home he has had an opportunity to reflect on his experience and the profound impact it had on his life.
Now Connor is not only eager to return to Guatemala someday, but he also wants to convince his peers to get involved in volunteering whether its half way around the world or around the block.
“I have already talked to my friends because I had such a cool experience,” said Connor. “This was a big deal for the people (in Guatemala) and there are so many people who can’t or won’t do something like this in their lifetime. But if you don’t get involved you are not living your life to its fullest.”
While Connor speaks with his friends about his adventure, his father continues to plan and fundraise for the next Dentistry for All project.
Brad became involved in the program eight years ago when he was invited to a fundraiser. He was inspired by the work of the dentists and support volunteers and has become immersed in the program and is now chair of the board of directors.
The long-term vision is to build permanent dentist offices in impoverished communities in Central and South American countries. The facilities, at a cost of about $150,000, would be built in rural communities and dentists from the city would travel to the communities on a regular basis and work out of the office.
This was Brad’s first trip with a Dentistry for All mission and it has solidified his commitment to the program.
“It was exceptional to be there and see what was happening,” said Brad. “These dentists were giving these people their lives back, they were changing people’s lives. I am so excited about this experience, it is so much bigger than any of us.”
Brad was so impressed with the trip and its impact on Connor, he said he plans on taking his three other children at some point.
“We will be making a trip every two years, that is our goal,” said Brad. “I want them all to experience that level of involvement.”
For more information on Dentistry for All see www.dentistryforall.org