In the News
We made the paper! Front page in fact! Check out the article from the Sheboygan Press on March 2, 2017.
SHEBOYGAN - A Sheboygan dentist spread smiles last month during a mission trip to an impoverished area of Guatemala.
Tim Kaufman, and two other staff members from the Sheboygan Smile Center on Sheboygan's southside, traveled to Guatemala on Jan. 12 through 18 to offer their services to an impoverished community without access to regular health care.
“We dealt with a lot of tooth decay,” Kaufman said. “People who have never seen a dentist were not unusual. There are cases we would never see here because there is no access to care.”
The trio were part of a contingent of 41 doctors, nurses, optometrists, dentists and health care workers who took part in the mission trip. The majority of the 41 were from Wisconsin and also included local Aurora Pediatrician Dr. Walter Howard, Smile Center Hygienist Sandy Hoffmann and her husband Rick, Dental Assistant Amanda Schulz, and Hailey Tomlinson, of Sheboygan Falls, and Jessica Dyksterhouse, of Kohler, who served as language interpreters.
“I fell in love with the area,” Schulz said. “It’s the people, the kids, and everyone on the mission sets the bar really high. I really loved the people.”
The mission trip, called the Guatemala Medical Resources Partnership, is a Wisconsin Rotary project with a goal of bridging the gap in medical services for the people of Guatemala, according to the organization's website.
During the seven-day trip in January, the doctors saw more than 800 patients in the small, rural farming community of Oliveros, Guatemala.
Kaufman said patients would line up at the schoolhouse before dawn, sometimes walking hours, in an attempt to see a doctor.
“There is this illusion that we have a lot of time,” he said. “You see people and they have problems everywhere and you end up trying to fix everything. As time gets shorter, and there are people that still need to be seen, you start treating more urgent things and you have to let things go just to get people through.”
The trip has been held on an annual basis since about 2003. Kaufman has attended the mission trip four times.
“I love to travel and to see other parts of the world,” he said. “Every year I think about going somewhere else to see other parts of the world, but it’s such a good group down there, it’s really hard not to go.”
Kaufman also offers his staff the ability to go on the mission trip and offers to pay their airfare and participation fee in the program. He has taken two staff members each of the last two years.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to help those less fortunate than us,” said Courtney Rothe, a dental assistant who went last year. “I wanted to go for the experience and do some good helping people.”
The Lions Club International is also involved in the endeavor and offers financial assistance for Guatemalan children with medical needs and provided numerous pairs of reading and prescription glasses to those in need during the mission trip.
Kaufman said the people of Oliveros are often impoverished, living off of an average of $2,000 a year, and many work in sugar cane fields. The children, he said, often chew on the sugar cane as a sweet treat, which causes tooth decay issues.
“It’s like candy to them," he said. "You see kids just chewing sugar cane.”
The staff at the Smile Center said the people of the community are poor, but are upbeat and happy about what they have. Last year, Kaufman said he noticed they had a basketball hoop, but their ball was old and deflated. This year he brought down two new basketballs.
"They were so happy,” he said. “It’s amazing how happy they are with how little they have.”
Smile Center Hygienist Sandy Hoffmann said one patient was so grateful for the medical mission that he brought fresh fruit for the doctors.
“He needed to have some treatment and was questioning if he wanted to have his tooth extracted,” Hoffmann said. “He said he’d think about it, and he came back the next day and brought back six pineapples and melons for the group to show appreciation for us being there.”
The organization operates on donations, with approximately 96 percent of funding going directly to medical care, Kaufman said. This year, the organization spent approximately $13,000 on the clinic in Oliveros and another $17,000 on referrals for follow-up care in order for patients to have surgeries or other more advanced medical procedures.
Packed in a small classroom with five dental chairs, Kaufman said the daily work was hot and exhausting, but he finds it humbling to work for such a cause. The biggest challenge, he said, is the language barrier, and more Spanish/English interpreters are needed.
“In dental, if we had more interpreters, we could get more work done,” he said. “The people we have are wonderful. There just is not enough of them.”
For more information about the Guatemala Medical Resources Partnership, visit grmp.org.
Reach Phillip Bock at 920-453-5121, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @bockling on Twitter