Dentistry through Service in Palau

Dr. Fisher’s daughter reflects on her family’s mission trip to Palau.

Dentistry through Service in Palau 1

Palau. The name may conjure up images of a small, remote location deep down in the South Pacific—an archipelago dotted with numerous rocky islands. My trip and the opportunity to interact with Palau’s inhabitants— numbering just over twenty thousand—has changed my life. But first, let me tell you a bit about our trip. 

Our planning for the trip had begun six months earlier. August 19, 2015. I still remember the excitement I felt on the date when I first heard the news. My family and I had been given an opportunity to travel halfway across the world. At the time, our departure seemed an eternity away. The six-month time lapse between August and our February 14 departure felt like a lifetime. I wanted to go. I wanted the sun and the sand. I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty, to experience a new side of life. I was ready to work, to travel. The days passed, slowly. While I waited, my anticipation grew. I didn’t really know what was to come, but I knew it was going to be extraordinary. 

Early on the day of our departure I woke up to the sound of an angry alarm clock. Half asleep, I reached for the snooze button, it was 4:30 A.M., not exactly the most pleasant time of day. Yet none the less, I knew that the next three days of travel were not going to be much better. So, I pulled myself out of bed and tried my best to wake up. Then excitement and adrenaline kicked in, and by the time we reached the airport in San Francisco, I felt like I could run a marathon. As I looked around the sea of people, I found myself surrounded by the bright teal T-shirts of my fellow classmates. There were 34 of us in our group; 34 insignificant people off to change the world. The next 52 hours were a nightmare. Sleeping on the airport floors and being stranded in the Philippines became the least of our worries as we continued our journey to the small rocky islands of Palau. But, as each hour passed, my heart became more anxious. All I wanted was to set my feet on Palauan soil. 

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Our arrival was anything but glamorous, but the small island airport amazed me with its cultural architecture. The locals were delightfully friendly. It was easy to forget the early hour as the native Palauan’s welcomed us with leis of shells, and loaded our luggage into the old red bus we would be traveling in. The island was dark, but I could already sense the beauty that surrounded me there on this South Pacific island. 

The morning of the first dental clinic, I could hardly contain my excitement. I woke up early and dressed in my scrubs, ready for a long day of work. I remember walking into the hot basement of the church where we would be working. I was flooded with relief when I opened the door to the makeshift dental office. We had an air conditioner! It seemed like such a novelty at the time, but I still remember the excitement I felt on the date when I first heard the news. 

TURNING AN OLD JAPANESE HOUSE INTO A PLACE OF SERVICE 

The king of the island generously donated this old Japanese house, located on his property, to be used as the new location for Palau Adventist Wellness Center. In addition to many surgical services, this much-needed medical/dental clinic will also be used to provide health education and reversing diabetes classes to the underserved people of Palau and the surrounding islands. 

This place, filled with such a unique culture, was where I fell in love with service. 

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Dentistry through Service in Palau 4

Being able to serve this island community out of love, not for profit, was such a fulfilling and eye-opening experience. Every time I loaded a local anesthetic, or cured a filling, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was in some small way helping these people. I’m not a dentist but being able to work alongside my dad as well as my fellow classmates allowed me to make a difference. The appreciative people of the island were being healed, one tooth at a time. 

As I look back on our journey, I remember some of the difficulties we experienced like racing through airports to catch flights and being stranded in the Philippines for hours due to a missed connection. I also remember the feeling of the ocean air with its high humidity that prevented us from ever truly feeling “dry.” We also experienced many pleasant things as well. The tropical forests that sang to us each night never ceased to amaze me with their unique beauty. And in my mind’s eye I still see the friendly people, those whom we had gone to serve. The greetings from the school children each morning always made me smile. The mobs of people that flooded the church during our clinics had kept me focused. This place, filled with such a unique culture, was where I fell in love with service. 

During my time on the islands, our team pulled many teeth, distributed many eyeglasses, and touched countless lives. I saw love displayed on every busy face. I felt a new strength every day I spent there serving the people of Palau. Whether I was opening my mouth to sing or telling little children to open their mouths for me to care for their dental needs, I knew I was there on a mission. I remember the fire I had burning in my heart while I served in Palau. It is a fire that still burns deep inside—one that creates a hunger for service. It created a love for people—a love that will stay with me the rest of my life.  

Dentistry through Service in Palau 5
Tiffany Fisher, 17-year-old daughter of Sprig co-founder Jeffrey Fisher, joined her high school classmates in 2016 on a two-week mission trip to Palau where they helped construct a medical-dental center and conduct medical dental clinics on this South Pacific island nation. Tiffany was accompanied on the trip by her mom, dad, and younger brother. 

This small blessing would become a lifeline to those of us working in the dental clinics during the next week and a half. My dad and I arrived earlier than usual to aid in the setting up of all the equipment. With a suitcase full of instruments, a couple lawn chairs, and a hand-held X-ray camera, we set to work organizing our clinic. 

It was about an hour later when our first patient walked through the door. I still remember her. As she sat down in the lawn chair, I instantly noticed the smell of beetle nut on her breath. When she first opened her mouth, I was greeted with disturbing sights of decay. She was missing many teeth, and those still in place were badly infected. My clinic experience was going to be intense, and this was only just the start of what was to come. During that first day, I was introduced to the world of clinical dentistry practice under the most basic conditions. My dad gave me a crash course, introducing me to all the instruments and their uses, as well as teaching me how to sterilize and clean all the equipment. In a matter of hours, I had assisted with extractions, fillings, and root-canals. On my first day, I had just experienced a wide range of dental procedures. 

As the week went on, I met many more people and pulled quite a few teeth. Each person who came to sit down with us had a unique set of oral needs. Some students only needed a few fillings, while other individuals came in with much more severe dental needs. No matter the complexity of the treatment they needed, every patient we saw shared one common characteristic—an expression of deep gratitude and thanks. These people had very limited access to healthcare, and the only way for some of them to receive medical help was by traveling to the Philippines. We witnessed firsthand the urgent need for the medical-dental clinic others of our team were helping to construct. 

Dentistry through Service in Palau 6

Being able to serve this island community out of love, not for profit, was such a fulfilling and eye-opening experience. Every time I loaded a local anesthetic, or cured a filling, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was in some small way helping these people. I’m not a dentist, but being able to work alongside my dad as well as my fellow classmates allowed me to make a difference. The appreciative people of the island were being healed, one tooth at a time.

As I look back on our journey, I remember some of the difficulties we experienced like racing through airports to catch flights and being stranded in the Philippines for hours due to a missed connection. I also remember the feeling of the ocean air with its high humidity that prevented us from ever truly feeling “dry.” We also experienced many pleasant things as well. The tropical forests that sang to us each night never ceased to amaze me with their unique beauty. And in my mind’s eye I still see the friendly people, those whom we had gone to serve. The greetings from the school children each morning always made me smile. The mobs of people that flooded the church during our clinics had kept me focused. This place, filled with such a unique culture, was where I fell in love with service.

During my time on the islands, our team pulled many teeth, distributed many eye glasses, and touched countless lives. I saw love displayed on every busy face. I felt a new strength every day I spent there serving the people of Palau. Whether I was opening my mouth to sing, or telling little children to open their mouths in order for me to care for their dental needs, I knew I was there on a mission. I remember the fire I had burning in my heart while I served in Palau. It is a fire that still burns deep inside—one that creates a hunger for service. It created a love for people—a love that will stay with me the rest of my life. 

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