After a long journey from Norway, I arrived at the airport in Guadalajara, where a friendly and reassuring Projects Abroad staff member, Alejandro, was waiting for me. Everything went so smoothly, just like I had been informed beforehand.
My host family in Mexico
Alejandro took me to the world’s best host family! It was the start of three incredible months, living with a Mexican family. My host family showed me so much of the Mexican culture, and welcomed me in to their home as part of their family.
My host mother spoilt me with all her delicious cooking, and getting up every morning to make my breakfast and lunch to bring to work. And for Semana Santa (Easter), they even took me on a “family trip” to Mazatlan, the Pacific beach town northwest of Guadalajara.
My Dentistry Project
In the Dental Department, at the general hospital of Zapopan, I was also received very well. I was surprised at how old and worn everything was, and I had to get used to doing things very differently, also regarding the lower standard of hygiene. This, I learnt, was only because it was a public hospital. I saw some pictures of a private clinic, and it looked just as modern as the one I’m working at in Norway.
My dentist associate in Zapopan impressed me with his good dental work despite minimal equipment. He taught me a few tricks, and most of all, lots of Spanish, which I really needed.
Dental outreach programme
During my project I got to do two dental outreaches that were very nice in two very different ways. The first one was in an orphanage for boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Most of the boys there were around the age of 8-9 years old – they were very dirty, but so sweet. They did not have a habit of taking care of their teeth, so there was a lot of gum inflammation and caries. We gave a talk about dental hygiene and diet, and why these things are so important.
Afterwards we demonstrated for everyone how to brush their teeth effectively, and then we did a dental check-up on everyone. Each boy was given his own toothbrush, and we also gave toothpaste and dental floss to the orphanage – the children looked so proud and happy.
The second dental outreach was in a day-care, where the children were around 3 years old. Although some of them had perfect teeth, there was a lot more caries than among the 3 year olds in Norway. We made a plan for informing the parents and giving advice, as well as sending the children with caries to specialists.
Mexico is very different from Norway in the sense that the children are allowed by their parents to eat far more unhealthy food and most eat sweets almost every day. This contributes to major health problems not only in relation to dental health, but also general health.
Weekend activities in Mexico
One month of Spanish classes in Playa del Carmen really wasn’t enough, but little by little, all the time practicing, I got to know the language at a level that allowed me to move around on my own and explore.
Guadalajara is such a beautiful city – its grand churches like La Catedral, El Expiatorio and La Basilica really can take your breath away.
I got to know so many wonderful people during my project, the host family and all the people they introduced me to, the people from the Projects Abroad office, other volunteers, and other Mexicans.
I must say that Mexicans strike me as a very friendly people with a very good sense of humour. As I loved to take salsa classes and go out to dance I was very happy to find how easy it was to get in contact with other Mexicans to come with me. In this way I made a lot of new friends; men and women alike.
During the weekends I travelled quite a bit. I went to Puerto Vallarta with the other volunteers, I visited a friend in Colima and we got to free turtle babies into the ocean at a Turtle reserve. Before we went to the beach in Melaque, I went to the awesome Mexico City and visited another friend, and together we went to Cuba for a week.
I also went to Mazatlan for Semana Santa with my Mexican family like I mentioned earlier. It has been more of an adventure than I could ever have imagined! And the best part about it is that it is all real – I know I have made friends, even a Mexican family, that I will have for the rest of my life.
Before I went I thought that Mexico was a dangerous country, and that I would have to worry about my safety all the time. But my advice for future volunteers is just to keep your eyes open, and be open for all the wonderful opportunities that present themselves, to experience, to get to know people and to live a life so adventurously different from the one you have at home.
I know it has given me so much, and I can only recommend for everybody who is considering it to go ahead and do the same thing. Projects Abroad is the perfect organisation for people who have never travelled like this before.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. To find out more about what you can expect from this project we encourage you to speak to one of our friendly staff.