I have long been curious about the photos on the wall of my Abbotsford dentist’s reception area. The subjects are primarily African or Hispanic. Last week in a conversation in our home, I asked Dr. Sam Edworthy to tell me about them.
A modest man, he’s quite comfortable being addressed as “Sam” by both staff and patients. “In 2000,” he said, “a dentist told me the Northview Community Church was putting together a team to provide desperately needed services in a Mexican village. It sounded interesting so I accepted his invitation to go. It was a fulfilling two weeks and since then I’ve done dentistry in a number of countries.”
“I’ve returned to Mexico about 12 times,” he said in response to my prodding. “Mostly under the auspices of the Abbotsford Vineyard Church. Presently they are establishing a permanent dentistry clinic there so dentists can go for one or more weeks and everything is ready. A lot of our work there has been with single moms.”
On several trips to Ghana, a local pastor expressed an urgent desire for ongoing dental services in his area. Sam trained him in basic dental procedures and the sponsoring church group provided supplies and equipment so he could carry on.
Sam feels it is important that others, including his family, discover the sense of fulfillment he experiences on mission trips. “When my son James was 14 I took him along on a trip to Nepal,” he said. “I wanted him to interact with people of another culture. I also wanted him to understand how fortunate we are in Canada and that we really should help people who have so little.”
Earlier this year Amanda, his adult daughter, accompanied him to Mexico. Apparently she caught his sense of responsibility for serving people who receive little assistance from their government. This November she wants to go with him to Haiti, a country universally known for rampant poverty, dismal living conditions and unbridled corruption. Amanda, who has a PhD in science, is quite willing to help with dentistry.
Sometimes Sam takes along one or more clinical staff. They pay a portion of their expenses which include air fare, travel in the country, meals, accommodation, and occasionally security. When necessary, he subsidizes their participation. He pays for all his personal expenses, brings along dentistry supplies (some are provided by dental companies), plus his own compressor and dentistry unit.
For most of his assistants, this is an extraordinarily positive experience. “There was one early exception,” he noted. “A dental assistant came back with tales of flies, obnoxious odours, overwhelming heat, primitive washroom conditions and more.”
This type of dentistry requires mental and emotional adjustments. Some villages are remote, accessible only by traversing treacherous terrain. Invariably, working and living conditions are primitive.“In one village we go to, we have to dam up the creek so we can shave and wash up at the end of the day. It’s hot and we get pretty sweaty. Also, we have to use non-digital equipment. Up to date equipment is more sensitive to impurities in the water and won’t function. When equipment breaks down, we have to fix it. If the village doesn’t have electricity, we bring a generator and gas. The environment we work in frequently isn’t very sterile.”
Adverse circumstances seem not to faze him. “Almost anything we do in our Abbotsford office, we can do there,” he said. “We regularly do root canals and the results have been very satisfactory.” He noted that at the completion of any procedure, the patient often expects to be given a pill. “For them it’s confirmation they have received medical attention.”
Intrigued by the willingness to leave behind his spotless, well equipped office to work where challenges abound, I asked what motivates him. “We go as a team,” he said. “Some of the members are young and they bring excitement. It’s a good feeling to be part of something important.”
He paused, then said, “the people are grateful for what we do. In one village they brought us the straw mattresses, bed bugs and all, from their own homes. They wanted to give something in return, even though this meant sleeping on a dirt floor. We go into their homes and become friends. What we do gives people hope. It’s a good feeling to help people who have so little.” The pictures on Sam’s wall represent an inspiring story.