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Students Provide Dental Care to Indigent Children in Nicaragua

Pennsylvania College of Technology dental hygiene students Tango S. Marbaker, of Canton, left, and Karen J. Miller, of Linden, treat one of 105 elementary school students at La Escuelita in Managua, Nicaragua.Five Pennsylvania College of Technology students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene: health policy and administration provided dental care and education to the 105 students attending La Escuelita The Little School in Managua, Nicaragua, during the college’s Spring Break.

The school is in Managua’s Santo Domingo barrio, the heart of the nation’s capital until a massive 1972 earthquake left 90 percent of the city in shambles.

Although residents and businesses rebuilt on the outskirts of the city, poor people from the countryside and other parts of Managua took up residence in the badly damaged buildings that remained in Santo Domingo, seeking work and survival. They are some of the poorest in a nation that is ranked second only to Haiti among the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries.

Penn College dental hygiene students have been visiting La Escuelita since 2008. They work alongside dentists Alicia Reyes, of Nicaragua, and Martin Shelley, of Canada, to provide complete dental care to the children during their stay. For most, it is the first dental exam in their lives.

“In a country where dental care is often not provided, the project is unusual and important,” school officials say.

The Penn College students spent the first day of their visit in lectures, learning about the area’s culture, history and politics. On Sunday, they set up a health fair, each student leading a center with hands-on learning activities to educate the children and their families.

Monday through Thursday, the students set to work cleaning the children’s teeth, applying sealants and varnishes, teaching them how to brush and floss, and analyzing whether they needed restorative work by the dentists.

The dental hygiene students took in stride a language barrier that made it difficult to ease children’s anxieties about the unfamiliar experience, frequent power outages, stifling heat and cramped space that led them to take turns working in the school’s hot, sun-drenched courtyard. The rewards were so plentiful, they are eager for an opportunity to return.

“They gave us a hug when we came in and a hug when we left,” said student Billie Jo L. Anderson, of Falls Creek, who was most impressed during her visit by the appreciation the children showed their visitors.

“They were super excited to just sit and read with me,” recalled Karen J. Miller, of Linden. According to school officials, many of the children are hyperactive, mistreated, malnourished, and, in some cases, ignored by their parents.

“They really don’t have anything,” Miller said.

Each child was given a toothbrush to take home, and the gesture delighted them.

“It was like light was beaming out of every pore,” Miller said.

“Something so miniscule,” added Noel N. Hoffman, of Shillington. “We would never even think of it here.”

Joining Anderson, Hoffman and Miller on the trip were students Amanda “Gracie” McCoy, of Williamsport, and Tango S. Marbaker, of Canton, as well as Rhonda J. Seebold, part-time instructor of dental hygiene. The trip is part of a two-credit elective course, Dental Hygiene Nicaragua Experience.

For information about study-abroad opportunities at Penn College, visit www.pct.edu/international or call 570-326-3761, ext. 5257.

To learn more about the Dental Hygiene Program and other academic programs offered by the School of Health Sciences at Penn College, visit www.pct.edu/schools/hs or call 570-327-4519.

For general information about the college, visit http://www.pct.edu/ , e-mail admissions@pct.edu or call toll-free 800-367-9222.