Amy and Lila Travel to Nicaragua – Part 1


An aerial view of lush forest land in Managua, Nicaragua

Boy With A Ball is a nonprofit working to improve communities by developing young leaders.

The organization invited Amy Thompson West and me, Lila Tocci, to observe and assist with the free dental clinic they were sponsoring in Managua, Nicaragua. Space is not wasted. The roads are lined with makeshift stands selling beverages, fruits, and snacks and are shared with pedestrians, motorcycles, trucks, and three-wheelers. As we approached the neighborhood hosting the clinic, the roads became increasingly degraded. Our driver guided the van over deep ruts and around obstacles.

“The Trees of Life” art scultptures in Managua, Nicaragua.
A Three-Wheeled Vehicle.

Once in Barrio Morales on the outskirts of Managua, Amy and I joined a group from Kalamazoo, MI who were filling cavities and extracting teeth in a makeshift clinic. It was on a front porch with a tin roof and tile floors. The house was only one of a few homes that had electricity for the compressor and gas for sterilizing instruments. With the aid of a translator, assistants, and lighting technicians, Ed and Sue Liebenthal, the dentists, used their skills to relieve the worst pain their patients were experiencing like extracting an impacted wisdom tooth. Many residents had never seen a dentist.

The Clinic Set-Up in Barrio Morales.

One of our tasks was to sanitize the dental tool. The sanitation process began with disposing of sharps and biohazards, then wire brushing sharp and blunt instruments. After several steps with purified water and Dawn, the instruments went into the pressure cooker to whistle away for 20 minutes.

Patients Waiting for the Dentists.
The Last Patient of the Day.

A portable waiting “room” of white plastic monobloc chairs followed the shade around the yard. The homeowner watered the area to control dust, but in 97-degree heat, we welcomed any breeze we could get. Even as the sun was setting, the dentists worked on it. They used battery-powered lights to spare energy to power the compressor for drilling and the shop vac for suction. When darkness had settled, we cleaned and put away supplies anxious to return to the hotel for dinner. The dental team who had worked steadily and deliberately all day, never rushing their patients, who were careful to greet, explain, and understand their patients, had the good humor to spare on the van ride to the hotel.

Residents of Barrio Morales.
A house in Barrio Morales.

BWAB is an organization whose hallmark is relationships and Anna Currie (BWAB VP of Program Development) and Jamie Johnson (BWAB Founder), both fluent in Spanish, talked and listened to everyone all day every day—from the oldest to the youngest, everyone was significant; they very much embodied the organization’s mission to build relationships. Most striking was the ease with which they engaged students and residents. Amy and I met Erlin and Esmerelda, local youth development leaders for BWAB who organized weekly Saturday AM tutoring sessions for children of the Barrio. We saw their deep commitment to the residents, university students, and children. We heard many stories of students sharing their scant resources to gain an education. Many students were willing to sacrifice food and water to achieve this. This humbled both of us who have so much.

To be continued!