Island lessons

Photo of Ryan Labute, Pouya Maleki and Yasaman Soltani
Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

The energy was high amongst the 19 Schulich Dentistry students, as their bus wound its way along the narrow and unforgiving roads, through the lush mountainside of the Caribbean island Grenada. It was the start of a nine-day mission trip for the students and an unforgettable learning experience that created a lifetime of memories.

Photo of the group in Grenada

After a morning meeting at the hotel and packing up their supplies, the students boarded the bus with great anticipation of how their day would unfold. With each passing minute of the hour-long drive the noise level grew, as did the enthusiasm for what would greet them at the other end of the island.

Pouya Maleki explains the student's morning routine in preparation for the day ahead.

A deafening silence

Through the bus windows, a small building in the distance slipped in and out of view as the driver expertly navigated the 90-degree turns in the road. A collective silence fell upon the bus as the line up outside the building came into view and the students saw hundreds of people waiting to receive care.

“It was a deafening silence,” said Andrew Jones, Dentistry Class of 2019 and trip organizer. “I’m not sure how to describe how I felt or really how we all felt when we saw the number of people waiting for us.”

For Jones, this moment capped off months of planning and preparation. He was responsible for the logistical management of the trip, for securing all the supplies and dental equipment they would need, and for fundraising. Jones had experience on his side in this role having participated in a mission trip the previous summer. He was well versed in what it would take to prepare for such a significant trip.

The students partnered with 1000 Smiles, an international humanitarian dental project that provides access to free dental care for thousands of people in Jamaica, St. Lucia and most recently Grenada. The company provides clinic equipment such as dental chairs and helps to manage the onsite logistics, including lodging, so that the dental care can be provided effectively.

Eliminating pain

Photo of Dabin Andrew Jones working in the clinicFor the nine days, the students were split between two different makeshift clinics set up in local schools in the capital city of St. George. Eight hours a day, the dental trainees performed screenings, cleanings and extractions on patients. In some cases, it was the first time some of the patients had ever seen a dentist, which meant more comprehensive attention and care was required.  

Each interaction was a learning experience, and with each passing day the students developed more confidence, better bonds with their team and became more efficient as they treated patients in the seemingly endless line.

The primary goal for the two dental teams was to help eliminate the pain individuals were experiencing. From there the students, with the support from a volunteer dentist, could determine the type of treatment that was needed.

Ryan Labute explains treatments offered and dental health information provided to patients.  

“At times it was overwhelming,” said Pouya Maleki, Dentistry Class of 2019. “Even at 4:30 in the afternoon, which was supposed to be the end of the day, more and more people – sometimes whole families - were lining up. It just motivated us to do more.”

Incredible people

Photo of the group in GrenadaThe more time they invested, the greater the satisfaction the students felt. And the response from the people who received care made it all worthwhile. Offers of food and wine were received daily, as were trips around the island and sailing excursions. No day was complete without the bus carrying the students to and from the clinics being greeted by people along the roadside.

“We were so well received and they weren’t shy to show their gratitude,” said Maleki. “They are incredible people.”

Ryan Labute, Dentistry Class of 2019, agreed. “The Grenadian people are the kindest people I have ever met, and they have such a great appreciation for community,” he said.

 Pouya Maleki shares a story about the radio coverage of their mission.

The right intent

The mission provided the senior students with opportunities to put their well-honed skills to use, enrich their experiences working in teams, grow as decision makers working in a fast pace environment and learn how to handle any adversity or surprise that may come their way. And while each one landed in Grenada with their own hopes, they all shared a desire to make a difference.

“We go through our regular days and don’t often think that there is something we can do that could actually make a difference to someone else. But from the moment we arrived, I realized that I had this skill that could be used to help someone,” said Imad Siddique, Dentistry Class of 2019.

Imad Siddique speaks about having the right intent to make a difference.

Island lessons

“There are so many instances that made this trip memorable, and just as many lessons,” said Maleki. “This trip was the most humbling and rewarding experience I have ever had.”

Photo of Christina Sperou in the clinicWhether it was an interaction with local Grenadians, the opportunity to think out of the box more than once to help a patient, being more resourceful in the moment, strengthening the bonds between one another, learning about logistical planning and what it takes to pull together a trip of this magnitude, or the importance of team work - each student came away with new knowledge and a greater appreciation for social accountability.

“We are blessed to have a skill in a field of health care that is so in demand. It would be a shame to not use it and have a positive impact helping people,” said Jones.

Nine days later, the students headed to the airport to return home, feeling tired but even more enthusiastic than when they arrived. And their message to their peers considering mission trips like this one: go do it. You can learn about yourself, about others and about how much of a difference you can make.

Photo of a small group of students in GrenadaIn August 2018, 19 Schulich Dentistry students travelled to Grenada in August 2018 to provide dental care to hundreds of people. We want to thank Andrew Jones, Ryan Labute, Pouya Maleki and Imad Siddique, students from the Schulich Dentistry Class of 2019, for representing the group who travelled to Grenada and for sharing their story with us.

Andrew Jones was born and raised in Toronto. After completing a degree in kinesiology and health science he began his dentistry degree. For him, dentistry blends his interest in biology with a procedural based hands-on career and the provision of health care.

Ryan Labute was born in Pembroke and grew up in Kingsville. Growing up he had a passion for snowboarding and skateboarding – two activities he continues to do today. He completed his degree in biological sciences before starting his dentistry degree.

Pouya Maleki was born in Iran and moved to Canada when he was eight years old. Soccer and carpentry featured prominently in Maleki’s life growing up. He brought lessons of team work, and an appreciation of precision with him when he began his dentistry studies at Schulich Dentistry.

Imad Siddique was born and raised in Karachi. His family immigrated to Canada when he was young. Growing up, Siddique found comfort, teamwork and confidence on the basketball courts. He worked with his family’s growing restaurant business and mentored a person with special needs. For him, dentistry encompasses all his interests - teamwork, medicine, art and a desire to help people.

First Group Photo

Top Row (from left to right): Gabrielle Malette, Yasaman Soltani, Nasim Moarefi, Vashini Vakeesan, David Wu, Martin Woo, Brittney Leeming, Christina Sperou, Maria Seraj

Bottom Row (from left to right): Michelle Lepore, Sepideh Noruziaan, Stephanie Clarke, Joseph Ciccone, Ryan Labute, Rawad Serhan, Andrew Jones, Imad Siddique, Pouya Maleki