PAST TEAM MEMBER STORIES
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Over the years, Isla Mujeres has become a part of who I am. I have been traveling to the island since I was in high school. Each year brings different stories full of joy, laughter, hardship, and learning. Our trips have evolved from serving locals in anyway possible to a daily dental clinic that serves hundreds. Simultaneously, the trips have evolved me from a teenager with limited perspective to a young adult who sees value in diversity. I recently read an article in which a girl argued that, on most mission trips, a large amount of people are useless as they spend lots of money to travel and end up serving in ways at which they are not qualified while believing they are a “savior” of sorts. Mission trips too often result in half-built libraries and relationships that are forgotten. This could not be farther from the truth about our time in Isla. Each member of our team (and I mean team in every sense of the word) brings forth meaningful talent. Yeah, my awesome brother’s role as the founder of The Smile Foundation is the most important, but it wouldn't work without all of us contributing. More importantly, our service is lasting. Instead of half-built libraries, we are “extracting” pain from those who otherwise would have never seen a dentist, leaving the people of Isla’s teeth healthier and continuing to give them care year after year, and strengthening relationships with friends who have become family.
When I think of my time in Mexico- past and future, one word comes to mind: purpose. Our lives are made up of moments and instances all of which are out of our control. I think back to my first day in Mexico when the eight of us piled into golf carts and rode down the the local Catholic church in the center of the village. No air conditioning, packed with people standing in the back. This was a moment. An instance that was in God's control and it was beautiful. With the help of so many, our trip to Isla Mujeres, Mexico has been one that has provided so many divinely orchestrated "moments" for the people of this town. Making "doing good" fun is not always easy- but with the leadership of people like Dr. Lauten Johnson, people are attracted to our mission and can see why we keep coming back. At one point we had a line backed up and almost wrapped around the side of the building of people who walked barefoot with their children to come get free dental care. One much older woman came in telling us of her pain and a minute later we were yanking out her wisdom tooth without pain medication. She gave a slight wince, and when the surgery was over you she thanked us, hugged us and even got a tear in her eye of gratitude. This is when doing mission work comes to fruition. When doing something that seems so small and providing that moment in the name of God makes an impact on one person- it is completely worth it to me. I'm so grateful to have this opportunity to serve and share and love and comfort in His name.
Going to another country is usually something that many people are scared of; however, I was eager to travel to Isla Mujeres with group of people who I came to love. There are a lot of memories and things I learned that I have from my wonderful trip on the beautiful island.One of the best memories that I have from my time was at a restaurant on one of the mornings of the trip. After eating breakfast, both of my mentors decided to go to one of the sacred churches across the street from the restaurant. Walking into that church, I experienced something that has stuck with me ever since the moment it happened. We walked into the church and there was a lovely scene of a podium in the front of the church. Behind this was a huge window showing the ocean below the church. As I observed the gorgeous ocean, one of my mentors began to sing Amazing Grace. Looking out that window and hearing the sensational voice of my mentor in the background, I realized why I was truly there. It was more than just a vacation or something to do over the summer. It was more than a fellowship with my mentors and people who will always be remembered as an important part of my life. It was more than visiting some place that I had never anticipated on going and was definitely surprised when I was offered the opportunity. This was about making a change globally. This was the start of my participation in being the “change we wish to see in the world.” This was my initiation into a movement that did and will continue to change the lives of my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Not only did this allow me to witness and take part in something that would change the lives of the local residents, but also it allowed me to understand it is my responsibility to help those that I can. My mentors, the organization I worked with, and those who aided us in Mexico gave me this opportunity. For this, I am forever grateful.
Sara Claire Birmingham, AL
Joy is the one thing that has remained the same each year that I traveled to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. 1,400 miles away, precious children live with a tarp over their head and no shoes. They are grateful. They are happy. They are joyful. The Smile Foundation's dental clinic is the best week of their life. It is not often that children will gladly let Dr. Johnson pull their abscessed teeth. They are numb to the pain, but they just do it so they can be rewarded with a Beanie Baby or bouncy ball that we had packed in our suitcases. I am forever thankful for my time in Isla and truly a better person after witnessing lifestyles of people who are just like me. It is in one week that I am reminded that I am worthy of nothing. Until next time, Isla Mujeres. Thank you for forever changing my heart.
Serving on the Isla mission team was an incredible experience that left me completely humbled and beyond grateful. Not only is Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo a gorgeous island in Mexico where most of the photos I took looked like scenes from a postcard but it also is filled with very genuine people. The authentic food experience of Isla was definitely memorable. I can't decide if I am looking most forward to Vivian's plantain “toston” sandwiches at Qubano or homemade guacamole and pico de gallo made by our friend, Gaspar. Our group enjoyed a few local tastes but we were constantly reminded of the numerous locals who are without good food. In fact, many of the patients we saw and friends we met throughout the island were living without basic necessities in over populated spaces with unsanitary living conditions. My favorite memory I have from an Isla trip was pulling up to the Cruz Roja for our first full day of dental missions where many, many “limpiezas'' (cleanings) and “extracciónes” (extractions) would later take place. An elderly local woman was sitting at the doorway waiting on us. She was smiling as she explained to our translator that she was in a lot of pain. As word spread we would be in the area, she walked several miles to the clinic. She had been waiting two hours before our three golf carts arrived, but she had the calmest most appreciative demeanor the entire visit with us. After hours of dental work, she thanked each of us repeatedly while smiling with a mouth full of red gauze. She was grateful to be out of pain and I was more than grateful to be there to help her. My 2012 Isla experience ultimately sparked a passion toward my current profession as a dental hygienist. I learned the importance of using the skills that God gave me, to help make even the smallest impact in the lives of others. More importantly, the smiles of that tiny island refreshed my soul and made me more grateful than ever for things that I so easily had taken for granted. I look forward to learning more from our Isla friends again!
In 2009, I traveled with The Smile Foundation to Isla for the first time, I had no idea what to expect or how much that week would change my life. The second day we were there a little boy came in with an extremely swollen face due to an abscess. His dad was very concerned and had no idea how severe this was. We ended up pulling three teeth that day. The little boy came back two days later to let us check on him and see how he was healing; it was like a new child that day. Just from getting those infected teeth out, the child came back smiling and happy, very different from two days before. It's moments like these when I realize the impact we are making. I am so thankful for the opportunity I have had to travel with The Smile Foundation the last five years and the relationships that have been formed.