Dentist Alfresco The Boy Scout slogan—“Do a good turn daily”—inspires a Eugene dentist to assist Cascade Medical Team with health care in rural Guatemala.
COURTESY DR. TOM MACREADY Despite primitive conditions, difficult travel, and armed guerrillas, volunteers such as Dr. Tom Macready take their medical skills to needy rural people.
Millions of young people enjoy Scouting activities every year, but many leave the organization and its do-good reputation behind as they become adults. Others, like Dr. Tom Macready ’69, take the Boy Scout oath to heart and incorporate that helping philosophy into a lifetime of volunteer activities. Each spring since 2005, Macready has packed his dental tools and trekked to tiny villages in Guatemala with the Cascade Medical Team. Setting up where space is available, Macready offers his healing skills to the poverty-stricken Mayan people who live in the area. Sometimes there’s a school room or patio available for Macready’s use. Other times, a lawn is the best space available. “My first day working down there, my assistant kept laughing at me,” he says. “I kept reaching up, trying to adjust my light . . . but it was the sun! I saw fifty-four people that day, and probably pulled 125 to 150 teeth.”
Living in one of the poorest Latin American nations, Guatemala’s citizens have endured decades of military occupation and civil war, which contributed to the unavailability of medical and dental care. “Imagine an area the size of Eugene-Springfield with only four or five doctors to support the entire population,” says Macready. “That might be an equivalent. And, poor? Extended families, twelve or thirteen people, living in a dirt-floor, one-room shack made of cornstalks and a few bricks. Just a little piece of ground to grow a few crops. They’re just barely surviving.”
Affiliated with the international nonprofit organization Helps International, Cascade Medical Team (CMT) was formed in 2002 to provide all-volunteer medical and community development assistance to Guatemala’s rural population. Hauling mountains of duffel bags stuffed with medical equipment, CMT volunteers depart from airports throughout the United States to meet in Guatemala City. A convoy of buses ferries the team and provisions eighty-five miles over winding mountain roads to a location outside the town of Solola, headquarters for CMT’s five-day mission. There, the hundred-plus crew of volunteers bunk and work in a former military base—think cement-block buildings and bare concrete floors. Dormitories house the volunteers, and a gymnasium provides room for cooking, meetings, and meals. Operating rooms, clinic areas, and pharmacy are all equipped with materials donated by suppliers or purchased with proceeds from CMT’s fundraising events.
Clad in brightly colored, traditional hand-woven clothing, the hundreds of patients travel miles on rutted roads, arriving at Solola on foot or by bus. And for the many patients who can’t travel, Macready and other medical professionals are guided to tiny, isolated villages to provide their services. “There are still guerrilla gangs in some areas,” says Macready, “so we have armed guards to escort us.”
Due to lack of infrastructure, water contamination is rampant in rural Guatemala. In some areas, Macready says, bottled water may be more expensive than the soda pop purchased in two-liter bottles. “You’ll see little kids walking around with a plastic bag full of pop with a straw stuck in it. The amount of advanced dental decay we see is staggering. We see children with huge holes in baby teeth. We see young adults missing many of their permanent teeth.” Macready and the other dentists provide toothbrushes and basic dental hygiene education, “. . . and it’s amazing, since the first couple of years we did that, we’ve seen a marked improvement in these people already. They don’t want to hurt; they just didn’t know how to prevent it.” He says that providing clean water also makes a big difference: CMT now sends volunteers who are trained to install simple water purifier systems to ease the clean-water shortage.
Macready says he receives from the Guatemalans a simple and sincere gratitude. Mayan customs are quite conservative—Americans are even asked to avoid wearing shorts and showing affection in public. “But sometimes I’ll finish a procedure, and the patient will turn and give me a big hug; I know that’s hard for them. They sometimes return later with a small gift, a woven purse or necklace they have made.”
Seeing that gracious generosity in the midst of debilitating poverty is what keeps Macready on the Cascade Medical Team’s roster of returning professionals. “I tell people, ‘sure, I have never worked so hard in my life, but really, I think I’m still trying to be an Eagle Scout,’” he says. “I’ve also been a [volunteer] scoutmaster for thirty-five years, and ‘Do a good turn daily’ is the Scout slogan. That’s a lifelong commitment. I followed the Scout oath and law today, but I have to do it tomorrow, too. So, I’m still trying . . . .”
By Troy Givens For The Register-Guard Appeared in print: Sunday, Dec 27, 2009
Earlier this month, a friend and I decided to have dinner at Dickie Joe’s Restaurant, at 13th and Pearl, on a crisp, cold evening.
As the two of us were sitting in our booth enjoying our burgers, a waitress came over carrying a small white bag in her hand. She apologized for interrupting us and began to explain the little bag contained a chocolate chip cookie. She told us that somebody had purchased this cookie for me as a way to say thank you for my service to our country.
I was stunned and grateful to say the least. I asked the waitress who my gift-giving friend was. As she was gesturing with her hands, and nodding her head to her left, she told me that she wasn’t supposed to say who. As I looked off to her left, on the other side of the diner was a little boy in a red coat sitting with his mother.
So I now had a cookie to top off my dinner, but I couldn’t eat it alone. There was a boy who also deserved to share in this delicious morsel. After I finished my dinner, I got up to go tell this little Santa that I was very grateful for his gift and to thank him for his gesture of kindness. Just as I sat down next to the boy his eyes grew big and his jaw dropped with a gasp of air.
After the surprise of a soldier in uniform coming to talk to him wore off, I told him that a little someone bought me a cookie, and I was wondering if he knew who it was. He looked up at me with this grin that showed his one big, front tooth and asked me how I knew it was him. I replied back with a smile and said, “I just know.” I told this boy that what he did was very much appreciated, and I wanted to let him know his kindness was recognized.
The next words that he uttered touched me in a way that only a few can understand completely.
“In Cub Scouts, I am supposed to do a good turn daily for somebody,” he said. “And I wanted you to have this cookie as a way to show you how much I appreciate what you do for me and my family and my country.”
Wow! All of these powerful words coming from a little boy made me choke up a little bit. He then asked me if I knew who the Cub Scouts were. Little did he know that he was talking to an Eagle Scout. I then proceeded to tell him about my Eagle Scout award and all of the great things he has to look forward to in his Scouting career. He was so excited that he couldn’t stop telling me about the things he had done recently and how he aspired to earn the title and rank of Eagle Scout someday.
We talked a bit more about a variety of things in Scouting and a little about my military career. Just before I left, I split the cookie and gave him the bigger half. He was insistent that I keep the whole cookie.
“I didn’t give you the cookie so I could have it too,” he said.
And I understood what he was saying, but at the same time I was congratulating him on his achievements as a young Cub Scout by sharing my cookie with him. He gladly accepted and wished me a Merry Christmas as we parted.
What this little boy, now a young man in my eyes, did was exactly what the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts live by: the Scout Oath and Law. This young man’s gesture of kindness and good heartedness was the making of a future Eagle Scout and great leader in our community. He did not do what he did for recognition, but for the mere fact that he wanted to do something nice for someone else. He believed in the slogan of Scouting, do a good turn daily. He is becoming a man we can all be proud of.
Troy Givens, 24, is an active duty second lieutenant working for the University of Oregon’s Army ROTC program while awaiting his entrance to Engineer Officer Course in April at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He graduated from Churchill High School in 2003 and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2009 from UO. He was an Eagle Scout from Troop 61. To contribute to Write On, e-mail your 500- to 800-word manuscript to mark.johnson@ registerguard.com. Include your age, address, phone number, occupation and a couple of sentences of biographical information. There is no payment for a published column.
A Scout is...
OTC Webelos Scout Puts others before himself. Read the article published in the Rotary International News Letter:
Ten-year-old raises money for polio eradication
By Arnold R. Grahl Rotary International News -- 27 April 2009
Ian Schwartz (A WEBELOS SCOUT - OTCBSA.ORG added note.) with one of the displays he made about polio eradication and the money he collected from classmates. Photo courtesy of Sherilyn Schwartz
A lot of Rotarians could take a cue from one spunky 10-year-old from Eugene, Oregon, USA, who has raised a little more than $1,640 for Rotary's US$200 Million Challenge.
Ian Schwartz, a fourth grader at St. Paul Parish School, decided to collect money for charity in lieu of gifts from friends for his birthday, in keeping with a family tradition. Ian's mother, Sherilyn, is a member of the Rotary Club of Eugene. When the February issue of The Rotarian arrived at their home, Ian was inspired by the illustrated "Amazing Stories of Polio" inside, and news of the recent $255 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
"He said to me, 'Mom, I can't raise $255 million.' I told him, 'Yes, but every little bit helps,'" Sherilyn recalls.
Ian began researching polio on the Internet and created a presentation for a school assembly. His classmates had a personal connection to the disease that they didn't even know about, Ian said: The school's music teacher had contracted polio as a child but fully recovered because of the care available to him in the United States.
After setting up a booth in the lunchroom, Ian spent his lunch hour and recess collecting donations, raising $284. His parents matched that amount, bringing his total to $568.
"We gave him the choice of receiving a PlayStation Portable from us for his birthday, or having us match his effort," says Sherilyn. "He opted for the match. Of course, we also bought him the PSP."
Ian then took his fundraising effort to the Eugene club, where he shared the results of his research and his dedication to making a difference. With more than 200 club members in attendance, including Mike Fischnaller, governor of District 5110 (parts of Oregon and California), the Rotarians passed around the hat and raised more than $900, bringing Ian's total contribution to Rotary's challenge to almost $1,500.
Because of his donation, Ian qualified to become a Paul Harris Fellow, and through the club's matching recognition points, he will also be able to choose two additional recipients to receive the recognition.
"I'm very proud of him," says Sherilyn. "I think polio eradication is a great endeavor. I would like to see more kids ask their friends for donations to a good cause like this than to receive a bunch of stuff for their birthday that they don't need."
Fischnaller was so impressed with Ian's efforts, he has invited him to address the district's conference on 30 May in Corvallis.
"He's a little tentative about it, but he's excited at the same time," says Sherilyn, who notes that Ian is no stranger to standing before an audience: He has taken part in readings before his parish once a year when his class has hosted Mass.