Kristina Kefalas - Dentistry in Argentina
My experience in Argentina was a significant challenge in my life; primarily because it was the first time that I travelled by myself to a foreign country where I did not know the language. Not only did I learn more about Dentistry and Medicine, but it was also an amazing opportunity to meet volunteers from across the globe, and immerse myself into the local culture and its vibrant lifestyle.
When I first began working at my placement I was shocked at the conditions because they were radically different from Canadian hospitals. The majority of my patients lived in poverty and had many dental problems. Also, the hospital’s resources were restricted. Oftentimes, there was no anaesthesia and patients had to endure a lot of pain.
Two incidents in particular left incredible marks on me. The first involved an impoverished boy who was petrified of the dentist’s office. I helped him overcome his fear by sitting beside him and demonstrating the procedure that he would experience. Another experience that I learned from entailed a painful extraction on a woman who was given minimal anaesthesia. Although my Spanish language skills were limited, compassion can be expressed universally. Unlike in Canada where dentists have cutting-edge technology, the hospital’s resources were restricted and the conditions were unsanitary. Nevertheless, I helped promote healthy gums and teeth by teaching patients how to brush and floss properly.
There are many unforgettable moments that had an impact on me. One is the moment I witnessed the arrival of yet one more new child in the world of Unquillo. For me, the experience was amazing and terrible at the same time. It was difficult to see the mother in unbearable pain, for the hospital did not have painkillers and she had to deliver the baby naturally. However, seeing her give life was a beautiful experience, and I learned a lot about patient and neonatal care.
Travelling to Argentina also gave me the opportunity to improve my Spanish, enjoy asados, dance the tango, appreciate the Jesus Maria festival’s gaucho culture, and exchange stories with the local people and other volunteers. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet such amazing people, each with his or her own unbelievable stories. It really opened my eyes to the world around me. I will never forget the positive energy and extreme motivation of the Projects Abroad volunteers to make a difference in the world. As a result, my trip left me wanting to do more as a volunteer in developing countries.
During my stay, I was reminded on a daily basis of the dire conditions under which some people live. I grew to respect, admire, and love these people. They became my heroes; they became my teachers. I have forged lifelong friendships with the people I met in Argentina, and we continue to communicate with each other. Yo soy canadiense, pero mi corazón está en Argentina.