Journey through Ecuador

From bonding with their youngest patients to nearly losing their luggage to llamas, these dental students share their stories.
August 2nd, 2016
Group photo of College of Dentistry students and volunteers in Guamani, Ecuador

D4 Jigna Patel; D3 David Zant; Charlotte Bentley, children’s activities coordinator; D3 Angelica Lechuga; D3 Edward Lee Photos: Angelica Lechuga

It wasn’t the first time dental students participated in an interprofessional trip with their peers from across the Texas A&M University Health Science Center. From May 22 to 30, students Angelica Lechuga, Edward Lee, Jigna Patel and David Zant made up the dental component of this 35-person team, also composed of pharmacy, physical therapy, medical, nursing, and public health students and faculty. In all, the team provided care for more than 460 people in Guamani, Ecuador.

Through the course of providing dental exams, cleanings, extractions and restorative fillings to patients, and the time spent away from the clinic, these four dental students — and their supervising dentist, Dr. Tamie Erratt,’84 — definitely gleaned some stories to tell. Here’s more, in their words and photos.

Students Edward Lee

“This was the morning of our last day in the clinic,” recalls Angelica Lechuga, third-year dental student. “We had just gotten there and were waiting to see our first patients of the day. “I remember the first day we arrived at the clinic. The children were running around the outside of the building, playing with each other. I would occasionally make eye contact with them, and they would quickly look away. After a couple of days at the clinic, the kids mustered up the confidence to approach us. Almost instantly, Gemma, one of the twin girls pictured here sitting on my lap, became glued to my side. I attempted to set her down to give my arm a little break, and she quickly wrapped her arms around my neck and dangled like a 40-pound necklace! There was no turning back now, I had unknowingly gained a little assistant the moment I picked her up. I cherished every minute of the remainder of our days in clinic, with Gemma by my side.” — Angelica Lechuga

People walk in front of a church with candles.

“This photo was taken outside of the city center’s main church. The people there said it was a festival of lights helping to rid the city of evil and welcome in goodness,” recalls Jigna Patel, fourth-year dental student.
“The people of Guamani were unlike those we encounter here in the States on a daily basis. They live with so much less, yet smile as if they have the world. It helps put our own lives in perspective. Just as much as we were able to help the people of Guamani, they helped me. They helped me open my eyes to a new culture. A new way of living. A different way of thinking.” — Jigna Patel

Four students stand, smiling, near a llama

“This photo was taken during our trip to the equator. We stopped at a restaurant on top of a beautiful crater that served amazing food,” says Edward Lee, third-year dental student. “Afterward, we went outside and noticed two llamas — or alpacas — not too sure. We wanted a team photo with the animals, but this guy right here had already spit on Angelica. I wasn’t going to let that happen a second time! So as we cautiously inched towards the llama to get a photo, he started rummaging through her backpack; the nerve of this guy! It was such a fun experience, and I cannot wait to go again.” — Edward Lee

Five people prepare to go on a zipline in Ecuador.

“The forests have trees and greenery I’ve never seen or experienced before,” says Patel. “And I finally now truly understand the phrase ‘crisp air’ after breathing in true fresh, unpolluted high-altitude air.” — Jigna Patel
Pictured: Zant; Lee; Dr. Tamie Erratt,’84, the students’ supervising dentist; Patel; and Lechuga.





— Jennifer Fuentes