Brushing up on hygiene

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Students hone their skills and help needy communities in Latin America, as they get their teeth into an educational challenge

Calhoun Middle School, Texas, USA and Polyvalente Deux-Montagnes, Quebec, Canada

Many people dread a trip to the dentist, but for those in the world’s poorest and most remote communities, it is not even an option. Two IB World Schools have been doing their bit to change this, working independently to put smiles back on the faces of families in Honduras and Guatemala.

At Calhoun Middle School, Texas, USA, classroom discussions about life in Latin America soon turned to the difficulties faced by those living in poorer communities. In remote areas of Honduras, schools are not air-conditioned and supplies like books, papers and pencils are rarely available, says Spanish teacher Ragina Shearer. Most lessons are oral, and if a book is used, it is shared by many.

The MYP students were told about a group of American dentists who visit Honduras each year to provide free dental care to families in remote areas. Poor oral hygiene can lead to gum disease, tooth decay and is even thought to be linked to serious ailments like heart disease, so improving it is key to a higher quality of life. Moved by this, the class felt they had to do something to help the Honduran communities brush up on their dental hygiene skills.

After debating sending items like toothbrushes and floss, they settled on the idea of producing educational materials for the dentists to distribute to villagers. Students from different grades collaborated to create. How to care for your teeth booklets containing vital information in Spanish (students learnt the phrases specially), with helpful illustrations. These were then shipped to Honduras. The people who received them were excited to learn the books were made by students, says Ragina.

Meanwhile, in Canada, students at Polyvalente Deux-Montagnes in Quebec discovered how basic toiletries can drastically improve the lives of those living in poor communities when they collected more than 200 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste to send to Guatemala.

The civil war in the country may have ended 15 years ago, but the poverty-stricken Guatemalans are still suffering the aftermath, with over 40% of the population living in squalid conditions. After a chance meeting with a volunteer from non-profit Glens Falls Medical Mission (GFMM), which provides medical care and health education, English teacher Daniel and his MYP students decided to organize a shipment of toiletries.

At first, the students were sceptical that such small items could make a difference, says Daniel. They found it strange that some people didn’t have the same hygiene items that we have.

After collecting toothbrushes from friends and family, the students shipped them to GFMM. A package with a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste may seem small, says Daniel, but it will make all the difference to people in Guatemala.