"We can no longer accept patchwork humanitarianism as the solution to global problems"
Sandy Kemper was a Registered Dental Hygienist in the Seattle area for more than 28 years when she made her first trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1999. Sandy was surprised by the lack of dental care prevention she saw. The following days were devoted to extractions instead of restoration of teeth with very little anesthetic. Their equipment was set up on a makeshift portable dental unit - two boards laid across two straight chairs. Using hand instruments and a few donated dental supplies from her own office, they spent hours trying to provide dental cleanings and preventative care to young women and children in the Madre de Dios homeless shelter.
In 1999, and today, many women who grow up in the shelter system cannot complete their education. There were, and still are, few vocational training opportunities. Inspired by that first trip, Sandy Kemper returned to Cochabamba that same year, bringing dental supplies and dental equipment to the Madre de Dios shelter. And in 2002, private donations made it possible to create a two-chair, fully updated dental clinic and dental hygiene training center at the Madre de Dios homeless shelter. Thus, Smiles Forever was born.
The first six Smiles Forever hygiene students were residents of shelter. And together, in partnership with two Bolivian dentists, the program began. It was daunting to create and support a two-year vocational training program for students who came from challenging backgrounds. Most students were still finishing high school, working as housekeepers part time, or still living in the homeless shelter.
Fortunately, Smiles was able to partner with an incredible number of U.S. hygienists and U.S. dental hygiene professors to develop this unique dental hygiene program. Without any precedent, all training and educational materials needed to be translated into Spanish.
Since 2002, Smiles Forever has been accepting students into the dental hygiene program, and has successfully graduated and found job placement for more than 37 young women. All of our graduates and students have found successful employment throughout Cochabamba and the surrounding area.
Smiles Forever is immensely grateful to the efforts of so many to be able to sustain an opportunity to provide young women a chance to learn a trade which will allow them to provide for their families and enhance their lives.
We hope to be able to take this educational model to other developing countries where opportunities are scarce for young women, and the need for oral hygiene is great.