Despite having more aptitudes and facilities for the humanities and social studies, since she was a child, Mariana Areyan Viqueira was always clear: she wanted to be a dentist. She achieved it, and since the beginning of her career she has turned to helping the most disadvantaged. In 2017, she founded Sonrisas al Sur, an organization whose objective is to contribute to the comprehensive well-being of people and communities that have or have had little direct access to health and education services from a comprehensive perspective.
The same year the NGO was founded, mariana areyantogether with 2 dentists, 2 assistants and 1 psychologist, organized their first volunteer project in Senegal. From that experience, the most remarkable thing was, as he explains, «the lack of health centers of all specialties, regardless of whether the population can raise some money to pay for a service; there are not enough health centers. But not only the lack of financial or material resources is a problem, but also the shortage of qualified personnel to meet the needs of the population. “Another very important point is the lack of education to improve prevention,” he adds.
In this sense, one of the main challenges of all projects is the well-being of volunteers since, as detailed by Mariana Areyan, «without them there is no project. I am concerned that they are in good health: due to changes in climate, microbiome or possible unknown allergens that could cause a reaction. Fortunately, nothing serious has happened so far, but I always travel with an emergency kit in case it is necessary.
“Getting more instruments to offer better treatments is one of the main objectives of the NGO”
The other big challenge is dealing with local authorities. And it is that, he explains, on that first trip “the suitcase containing the anesthesia and medications was retained at the airport; even having a permit signed by the Ministry of Health. However, the next day we were able to fix it, but we lost a day of work for this reason.”
Cooperation with different organizations
Organizing a project of this type would be impossible without the cooperation of local organizations, whether they are local NGOs, municipalities or independent individuals.. “In Senegal, the comrades from the NGO Hahatay Smiles of Gandiol, in the north of the country, who are great friends; and in the south we work directly with the Zinguinchor City Hall. In the Añiaake community, near Zinguinchor, we have the support of a local leader. In Mauritania we work with the Chinguetti Foundation and in Guinea Bissau with the NGO Miradas al Mundo», comments Mariana Areyan.
«Collaborations arise organically, because I like to talk to strangers on my trips, and from simple conversations bonds and bridges of cooperation are created. In Europe everything is done from rigid and structured protocols, but in developing countries things work differently“, Add.
Thus, the actions are carried out during established work hours, where the population is informed that there are visiting dentists. These logistics are generally handled by local people and it is the volunteers who adapt to what they are told.
«UNTIL NOW, THE ACTIONS ON THE SUBJECT ORAL HEALTH WHAT THEY HAVE DONE HAVE BEEN BASED ON EXTRACTIONS, SINCE IT IS THE ONLY MATERIAL WHAT THEY COUNT ON»
Actions and economic investment
Until now, the actions in the area of oral health that they have carried out have been based on extractions, since it is the only material they have. However, Mariana Areyan details, «later I hope to have a portable compressor to make fillings or cleanings; or perhaps material to make removable partial dentures.”
Also, depending on where they work from, they can sometimes have a dental chair that works well and, in this way, do more treatments. “Possibly, next year we will go to a clinic in better conditions in Zimbabwe,” she adds.
For all this, one of the main objectives of the NGO is to get more instruments to offer better treatments.
Regarding the financial investment to be able to carry out the project, Mariana Areyan highlights: «Each volunteer pays for his trip. At the moment, I have only received material donations, but not financial donations. I try to raise money through online platforms to make the trip a little cheaper for volunteers. In my last project, the proceeds only paid for the visas of the volunteers and the night we had to spend in Lisbon to catch the early morning flight to go to Bissau”.
About the volunteers of the NGO, there is no one fixed, but people who can travel. «I feel lucky to have coincided with beautiful people, who travel when their personal situations allow it. My project is open to everyone; if any student wants to go to some project to develop their skills and gain confidence, they are welcome. Until now I travel with small groups; in fact, only two of us went to Mauritania. It depends on the project and the conditions of the place”, says Mariana Areyan.
In this sense, the only “requirement” that is requested to be a volunteer is to be a dentist or dental student. “Also hygienists or assistants. In addition, we always have one or two non-medical people to help us with logistics, statistics and general organization», emphasizes Mariana Areyan.
«For the moment, the intention is to go to a different place every year. I am organizing a project with my friend, Dr Munir Ravalia, an oral surgeon and health councilor for Kingston Borough, London, to go to Zimbabwe in the summer of next year, but nothing is defined yet. On the other hand, the doors are open to return to Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea Bissau”, concludes Mariana Areyan.