The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Mission trip takes dental assistants to Eastern Africa

By Mona Lisa Tucker/south news editor

Her voice quivered as she replayed the scene of Ethiopian women begging her to take their children.The magnitude of poverty there overwhelmed South student Melissa Lichtenwalner because she had never experienced anything remotely like it, she said.“It was heartbreaking and hard to grasp all at once,” she said.

Lichtenwalner joined a group of missionaries that returned from Ethiopia earlier this month to try to address the suffering in the famine-stricken area by providing dental care.

The first night they arrived in Ethiopia, they saw people sleeping on roadsides. The people carried their blankets all day and at night laid them anywhere, then woke up and continued, she said.

The people have nothing and are living day to day, yet they’re always happy, Lichtenwalner said.

In the U.S., people do not worry about contracting malaria from the water supply. They can go to their sinks and drink freely. However in Ethiopia, even toilet paper is a luxury, she said.

“There are a few cases that were really sad,” she said.

One malnourished 2-year-old couldn’t walk. She couldn’t do anything. She was just skin and bones, Lichtenwalner said.

“And there are these other two little babies that came in that were HIV-positive, and they were both probably 6 months old,” she said. “And another one, her whole arm was burned because they have open fires and the baby fell in it.”

No treatment was available for the child when the wound occurred, Lichtenwalner said.

Lichtenwalner’s group also visited a leprosy clinic where people’s hands were eaten away by the leprosy, but the people were still working and making bags, blankets and clothes, she said.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “We complain when we can’t get a cell phone.”

Lichtenwalner traveled with her aunt, Mary Hendrickson, who was on her second trip. However, some of the things she saw on her first trip were unexpected, Hendrickson said.

The unexplainable joy these people possessed despite their extreme poverty took Lichtenwalner by surprise, she said.

“They’re very gracious, very thankful, even despite their situation,” she said. “I don’t know why that is, but I think that’s what keeps me going back.”

Hendrickson said the thing that struck her the most on this trip was what she called “God’s provision.”

A majority of the supplies they brought were not allowed into the country. The team should have run out of supplies and been unable to help as many people as they did, but they continued to stretch what they had, she said.

“There’s a scripture in the Bible where Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes,” she said.

“We kept praying, ‘Loaves and fishes, loaves and fishes,’” she said. “I went initially to help them, and the reality is they helped me. When I say they, I mean the people of Africa.”

Arlington orthodontist Dr. Alexander Moody, who sponsored the trip, said what prompted the mission is his and his wife’s adoption of three Ethiopian children and their two subsequent trips to Ethiopia. Much of the team’s time was spent in Korah, the main area of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, he said.

“It’s a former leper colony, and so it’s just a very forgotten, tucked away part of the city,” he said.

Furthermore, the entire country has fewer than 100 dentists, Moody said. Lichtenwalner was one of the two trained dental assistants who went, he said.

“Part of the beauty of the trip was watching people like Melissa do what they do every day but also seeing people that were really working outside of their comfort zone, taking care of patients,” he said.

The team performed services like cleanings and tooth extractions on more than 900 dental patients during the four-day period, Moody said.

A side component of the trip was the delivery of wheelchairs, he said.

“To be able to provide these people with this opportunity of mobility was a real gift,” he said.

Lichtenwalner encourages students who have the opportunity to go on a mission to do it, she said.

“It’s completely life-changing,” she said.


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