Why did Nanci Kraus spend a year organizing a volunteer project in Jamaica? "I appreciate the good fortune I have been given and that I can help those in need," says the physical therapist and mother of two grown children, who resides in the Westchester County hamlet of Chappaqua, New York.
For the past eight years, Kraus and her family have maintained a vacation home at the Tryall Club in Hanover Parish, Jamaica, which is situated on the northwestern coast of the island, close to the town of Hopewell. When she happened to meet the director of the Connecticut-based non-profit organization, Healing the Children socially, Kraus learned about the group's life-saving medical and dental missions around the globe.
She seized this unexpected opportunity to give back to the people and community she had grown so fond of—-after traveling to Jamaica for more than three decades with her husband, family and friends.
Haves and Have Nots
Jamaica is a land where the differences between the rich and poor are sometimes stark. The wealthy live in beautiful villas, import goods from the states, and send their children to private schools and universities overseas. Although there is a growing middle class, many of the poor have limited access to higher education or decent medical care.
When it comes to dental care, Jamaica is bereft of adequate resources. There is only one public sector dentist per 62,000 residents, and one private sector dentist per 17,000 residents. When poor Jamaicans visit a dentist, it is more likely to be for an extraction rather than preventative dental care.
Nancy Kraus has no formal background in dentistry, diplomacy, or overcoming bureaucratic hurdles but she is a tenacious healthcare advocate with a track record of volunteerism. Collaborating with Healing the Children, The Kiwanis Club of Hopewell, The Tryall Club and the philanthropic Tryall Fund (on whose board she serves), the feisty New Yorker coordinated a dental mission that brought a team of five volunteer dentists, a hygienist, four dental assistants and an administrator (who all paid their own way) to set up a free dental clinic to serve children from the towns of Hopewell and Sandy Bay. She provided lodging and meals for the group in her vacation home.
The Dental Clinic
The dental mission took one year to plan and organize, and entailed recruiting volunteers, coordinating with local schools, and importing fifteen 50-pound packages of dental equipment. Local sponsors provided the clinic space at The Christian Deliverance Church in Hopewell, where the children were welcomed, made comfortable, and examined on makeshift tables with their heads propped up on deflated soccer balls.
The volunteer team saw some 400 children between the ages of 3-15 over four days (as well as some adults). They came to the clinic by car or minivans with their teachers, wearing checked uniforms (the girls with matching barrettes and hair ribbons). But for many, this was their first visit to a dentist. The professional team screened each child to determine if he/she needed fillings, extractions, cleaning, and/or instruction in dental hygiene and how to brush their teeth. Three graduate student filmmakers from the School of Visual Arts in New York City (one of whom was Kraus' daughter, Lauren) documented the experience (see link below).
Nanci Kraus says that the effort was one of the most profound and fulfilling experiences of her life. She was inspired by the beautiful smiles of the children and local volunteers, and treasures the lifetime friendships she made with other team members. Everyone hopes to repeat the mission and expand it to other areas of the island. "It affirmed to each of us that in giving one truly receives."
Watch the video with these wonderful children and volunteers.