Dear Theo,

Sometime ago you asked me to send you an email describing my experience participating in the Health Mission Outreach (HMO) charity trip to Guatemala. 

As you know my interest in volunteering with the charity was sparked by your enthusiasm in describing the vital work the charity does for the people of Guatemala who would otherwise not be able to have access to the dental, pharmaceutical and medical care provided by HMO. 

After retiring six years ago I searched for a way to be able to “give back” to humanity recognizing how fortunate I am to be able to retire in my present circumstances. My search was frustrated by the fact that I simply did not see myself sitting at a reception desk of some organization giving out information nor was I attracted to volunteering in a regular regimented environment. So when you described your charity it seemed a perfect match for me as it combined my love for travel with defined timeframes which allows me to plan my other activities around these commitments. 

The emotional journey for me was an interesting one. My initial commitment to join HMO on this trip to Guatemala was an exciting one however as the time to leave for Guatemala evoked many doubts around my ability to add value to the charity in a meaningful way. After six years of retirement I doubted the very skills and experience which made me successful in my work career. Mostly, I did not want to disappoint or embarrass you. 

Arriving at the airport and seeing all the people going almost made me turn and run. They were all so young and obviously confident in their participation. All the things I wasn’t. Your living and welcoming demeanour as always won me over and off I went. 

That first morning, being partnered with Mina was the perfect situation for me. Mena knew what she was doing and able to direct me and quickly my confidence returned. After the morning in “pharmacy” I knew this was not the right match for me. It was way outside my technical knowledge base and after helping to unpack and organize the area I felt useless. Being idle is not a good situation for me. So, although I hated leaving the safety and friendship of Mena, I wondered around looking to see what other opportunities may be available. It didn’t take me long to see that the sterilization station provided the perfect match for me. Having spent my 34-year career in health care, infection control principles were very familiar to me so in terms of learning curves this was an easy one. Also learning how to use the different pieces of equipment was also not complicated and easy for me to grasp. Most importantly I saw an opportunity to be helpful and ease the burden on you and the others. I recognized that my limited knowledge of the various pieces of dental equipment limited my potential to impact outcomes from a sorting and packaging perspective so working in the “clean” sterilization area was limited. The learning curve was too high. 

I asked a few questions about the sterilization equipment, confirmed my suitability and took off and took over. I was in heaven!! able to be busy all day and to impact Mission outcomes in a meaningful way. 

After the first full day, and with my confidence level growing my goal now was to increase the speed and efficiency of taking used equipment from the soiled trays through the necessary processes and to the clean area ready for you to package and make available for the dentists and dental students. In my view, my job was primarily to provide the dental staff with clean equipment in sufficient quantities so that they could maximize the number of people seen each day. Secondarily, my job was to assist in making the clinic an enjoyable experience in some small way for as many others as I could. 

I was also afforded the opportunity to assist in other ways and was proud to have been asked to participate in the board meetings. 

In summary, the experience helped me so much more than I had anticipated. Everyone (and I don’t want to start naming names for fear I inadvertently forget someone) was so welcoming, kind and generous. It was the best experience for me and I hope I was able to help in some small way and that you’ll have me back on the next one. 

With much gratitude and appreciation for an experience which has profoundly impacted my life. 

Chris

PS I would like to discuss opportunities to learn the various pieces of dental equipment so I can increase my ability to help in future.