The travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic has forced the cancelation of the 2020 missions to Peru and Mexico. We still hope to go through with our mission to Guatemala in August but we will have to wait and see.
In the meantime please read this article about our mission featured in ENCOUNTER by the United States Catholic Mission Association
On a Mission to Care for
the Smile, and the Soul
Article by Julie Bourbon,
Deciding what to do with the four weeks of annual leave Susana Scarlet Sandoval earns in her job as a dental assistant hasn’t been a problem since 2016. That’s when she founded Healthy Teeth Journey of Hope and dedicated herself to providing dental care to the poor in Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and her home country of Guatemala. Becoming a regular missionary was the furthest thing from her mind when she went on a trip with Helping Hands Medical Missions about a dozen years ago. She didn’t learn until they’d arrived in Guatemala that they didn’t also provide dental services.
“I realized that the medical is wonderful, but a lot of people were asking do we have any dentists there?” she recalled.
She hadn’t brought any of her tools with her and couldn’t give the additional care that the people needed. It started her thinking about how she could use her skills and talents, as well as her deep Catholic faith, to give back some of the good fortune she’s experienced since coming to the United States half a lifetime ago. The following year, Scarlet joined them again, but this time with her dental equipment. As a dental assistant, she’s able to provide cleanings and instructions about good dental hygiene but can’t do extractions. For that, she needed a dentist, so she brought one with her the next time. And she noticed something.
“A lot of the people also come for spiritual health. So I decided to pray with them during the missions, and I discovered they feel better after we pray,” she said.
They asked her for rosaries and holy cards, but she didn’t have any. “I said when I come back next year, I will bring those things. I became inspired to do posters with pictures of the Blessed Mother, the Holy Family and the Lord. And I brought a Bible.”
After that, Scarlet decided to try a mission of her own. She began small, just herself, providing dental cleanings at orphanages and little villages. Friends made donations, and two churches near her home in Virginia began to do the same. At the same time, Scarlet became friendly with a patient at the dental office where she works, and she helped Scarlet fill out the paperwork to become a recognized charity. The money she receives from donors covers the cost of her airline tickets and supplies. Sometimes she brings eyeglasses, as well, for adults who need corrective eyewear, and shoes for children in the orphanages she visits. Each mission lasts one week, and she goes four times every year. She enlists the aid of a local dentist in each of the communities and engages in prayer and worship with the people she serves.
“It’s very hard for me to explain, but I love the poor. I always feel so attached to the poor, especially the children,” Scarlet said. “I feel like if I’m still healthy and I can do these missions, I want to help. Because I feel like they are a part of my life.”
Before she came to the United States, Scarlet was a nurse. Thinking it would be easy to transfer those skills to a job in the U.S., she followed her now ex-husband far from the only home she’d ever known. The reality, she soon understood, was quite different. She’d have to learn English first, and then take two more years of classes to become certified. “I was very sad, because if I knew, I would never have come here,” she said. And then she got a toothache, which led her to the dental practice of Drs. Joe Cusumano and David Stuver. She became a regular patient, and then the nanny to Dr. Cusumano’s children. Six months later, he urged her to study to become a dental assistant. She’s now worked for them for 20 years, and hopes to be joined by Dr. Stuver, who serves on her board, this coming fall on a mission to a new site in Tijuana.
One of the hygienists from their office has already gone on a mission trip with Scarlet, as has that hygienist’s sister, who is a nurse. Her Easter trip to Peru has been indefinitely postponed, to her disappointment, because of the coronavirus pandemic. “She’s a special person. Avery giving person,” said David. “She’s a true believer in helping others and has said she was given a gift herself, coming to this country from Guatemala, not speaking English, and having no job. It’s now grown to beyond just dental care, to vision and shoes. And she spreads the message of Christ. It’s really great.”
For Scarlet, who has one adult son who also lives in the U.S., it’s all a matter of figuring out what you’re meant to do with what you’ve been given. “I think the Lord has a purpose for me,” she said. “I truly believe that.”