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Dental Hygiene Clinics in Cuba

Oct 19, 2011

Yamirka Torres reached into her past and looked toward her future when she chose to provide dental hygiene training in Cuba for her Gold Award.  She first traveled to Cuba as a young girl to bury her father in his native country. Years later, she returned with a passion for dentistry and a program aimed at long term improvements in dental hygiene.

Yamirka Torres

“When I traveled to Cuba as a little girl, I saw that there wasn’t a lot of hygiene and they didn’t have the resources that we have,” Yamirka said. “I want to be a dentist, so I took my Gold Award project and focused it on what I want to do with my future.”

The project began at home in Detroit, where Yamirka accepted donated dental hygiene supplies and created over 100 care packages. Along with several friends, who would later travel to Cuba and help her provide training, she also created pamphlets and informational materials. According to Yamirka, the experience of working with her friends improved her leadership skills.

“I learned the differences that people have and that you have to work together no matter what happens,” she said. “I’m a leader but I want to have other people in the group lead as well, so I learned to step back.”

Through a contact with a doctor in Cuba, Yamirka and her friends arranged to stay with a family while they provided dental hygiene information to the villagers. By traveling door to door, they often met entire families in their homes and occasionally taught several generations at once.

“We demonstrated everything – how to floss, how to brush, how to clean the brush and so on. We displayed it and gave them pamphlets and care packages we had created,” she said.

Some people were more interested than others, a challenge Yamirka met with a small change of approach. “The teenagers got really involved, but a lot of the men weren’t that interested in what we were doing. I tried explaining more to the men so that they were more receptive to the project and what we were trying to do,” she said, adding that this approach was largely successful.

While the logistics of planning a project in Cuba were often daunting, Yamirka reflects on the project as a positive experience that taught her an important lesson. “There will always be a solution,” she said. “I wanted to give up a couple of times, but it was worth it. Never give up.”