In 2008, I did a yearlong global health and international research fellowship in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. There I learned the aspects of developing outreach programs and conducting research in this under developed area of the western hemisphere. Since then, I have joined other well-established groups to be of service to those in such areas around the world. Ultimately it is a goal of mine to create and establish my own relationship with an indigenous group where I can be of service.
On May 20th, 2022, I embarked on a journey to the Peruvian Amazon. Specifically, Honoria, Peru. Here is a small port capital town next to the Ucayali River and the fantastical boiling river or agua caliente. I have a dear friend who is a Curandera, a traditional medicine woman, and she has trained with her teacher of the Ashaninka lineage for over more than a decade, studying the medicinal properties of Amazonian plants near this boiling river. I have always wanted to see this magical place that I have heard of. I contacted the wife of this legendary Ashaninka Curandero and l told her I was a pediatric dentist that wanted to give back to the people of this region in return for all the healing they provide for their visitors who come from all around the world to their healing center. She provided me with a name and a telephone number of the local dentist in Honoria.
With my large traveling backpack stuffed full of any supplies, materials, and machines that I could donate I flew to Pucallpa, Peru. In the morning I went to the “shared car” station and asked for a car going to Honoria. They put my bag in the back and I waited a couple of hours until they had enough passengers to fill the car and on our way to Honoria we went. For 4 hours I shared the backset with a family of four, Mom and Dad with 2 small children, and pre-teen sisters sharing the front seat next to the driver. We smiled at each other, laughed with the children, and shared bread that we bought from street vendors when we stopped for petrol. Once I arrived in Honoria, I settled my things in the single motel that offers small simple beds to visitors and decided on one of the two restaurants in this small town. Both serving the same dish of chicken, beans, and rice for lunch and dinner.
Nueva Honoria is a small town/capital of the district of Honoria along the Pachitea River. This district of the Peruvian Amazon is roughly 300 squared miles and has around 5000 inhabitants. Many inhabitants and visitors come through this small port town of Honoria to take motorized canoes to their remote villages in the amazon rainforest and then also travel in return to the bigger city of Pucallpa. Here there is a large schoolhouse and behind the schoolhouse there is a one room dental clinic, a small laboratory, and a one room doctors office. This tiny medical facility is the only one serving this district. Many people will need to travel hours by motorized canoe to be seen for their medical and dental ailments.
Early in the morning, I walked behind the large school to find the health buildings. Here I met Dr. Ela Velez De Villa Tineo. She works 7days a week from 7:30 in the morning until 3 pm with no lunch break. She has no assistant and does everything from sterilization, disinfection, government and patient charting, consulting, and treatment. Although they are government funded she doesn’t receive much financial support or materials because they are not in a big city. She was ecstatic for all the materials that I brought, and we immediately got to work. During my time there, I treated as many patients as we could, and she acted as my assistant. I taught her new ways of treatment and prevention techniques that we use in pediatric dentistry in the United States. Unfortunately, we did a lot of extractions due to chronic decay and we taught the parents about being in control of their children’s processed food, candy, juice, and soda intake. We also taught parents how to brush their children’s’ teeth as many of them were not taught or had the knowledge that they need to start brushing their children’s teeth after the first tooth erupts, twice a day, and until they are minimally 7 years old. Before the appointment I would take a picture of the child with my polaroid camera and as a gift at the end of their appointment they received a colorful bamboo toothbrush and their picture to take home. It was such a pleasure being able to serve the families of Honoria next to Dr. Ela. I told her that I would like to create a relationship with her and her clinic and that I would be back one day. She was happy and let me know to give her at least a month’s notice next time and she could arrange for the news to be delivered to more families and we could set up a system where we could see more kids, especially if I can bring more colleagues. I would like to share pictures of my time in this remote area of the world and with these beautiful people. May we all find a way to be of service in some form or another this upcoming 2023 year!