Written by Chengyuan Yang; Lusha Lee; Mandy Lo; Roger Kao
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
On Saturday, October 8, 2022, Tzu Chi’s Tijuana campus in Mexico was bustling with activity. The free dental clinic Tzu Chi offered that day started immediately after a strong team arrived. The event supported patients who came after hearing about it by word-of-mouth and fortified the Tzu Chi medical team. Motivated by altruism, Dr. Martha Rosa Lucero, from the Lucero Dental Group, offered her services during the free clinic to help those in need relieve their dental problems. She also brought two other doctors and eight assistants as part of her team.
A Dedicated Team
Dr. Martha Rosa Lucero’s private practice through the Lucero Dental Group has served the Tijuana, Mexico, community for 12 years and has been active in California for 35 years. For the past three years, Dr. Lucero and her colleague Dr. Rosalio Treveno have participated in Tzu Chi’s free dental clinics in Tijuana, usually serving 30 to 40 patients.
Dr. Lucero’s group includes nurses and technicians. For the October 8 clinic, the team arrived on site at 10:30 AM and worked until around 4:30 to 5:00 PM without pause. This hard-working team provided patients with orthodontic services, including braces, bridges, complete dentures, and partial dentures.
The beginning of Dr. Lucero’s medical outreach in Mexico traces back to 12 years ago when she and a group of Catholics came here on a charity mission. While they were distributing food, clothing, toys, and blankets, a woman approached the dentist to ask if she could treat her teeth problems. This simple plea led to Dr. Lucero’s journey of offering free dental care to patients in Mexico, her native country.
Feeling Sympathy is Easy – Taking Action Can Be Hard
Dr. Lucero is Mexican, and her heart is in Mexico. However, she discovered that while it’s easy to feel sympathy for her people and their healthcare needs, being able to help them can be hard. Since she insisted on not charging fees for her medical services in Mexico, many dental clinics didn’t want to participate in such an act of kindness.
And yet, such obstacles to her good intentions eased three years ago after she searched and found Tzu Chi’s Tijuana campus in Mexico, where altruism is the driving force in medical outreach and charity care. The cooperation between the Lucero Dental Group and Tzu Chi has never stopped since then. And within those first three years, Dr. Lucero donated four sets of dental equipment and supplies to the campus.
As part of the Lucero Dental Group team, technologist Mario Gonzalez is responsible for making jaw models, bridges, and more. He comes from a low-income family in Mexico, is Catholic, and his primary interest is helping those in need. “Every time I come here, it reminds me of my childhood because many patients cover their mouths and don’t want people to see their teeth,” he shared, adding, “Some local doctors only do tooth extraction but no dentures. So, the missing teeth make many people feel ashamed.”
Improved Smiles Boost Self Esteem and Confidence
Jorge G. Lopez, a former patient of Dr. Lucero, is now a volunteer with the Lucero Dental Group. In 2016, when Jorge first met Dr. Lucero, he was bullied by his classmates because of missing and irregular teeth and didn’t want to go to school. The doctor kindly paid for his surgery, gave him confidence, and encouraged him to continue his studies to be better able to help his family. Jorge, who has since graduated from college, is immensely thankful and says, “All I can do is give back and let this love pass on.”
Another patient, Severiana Gutierrez, who has lost many teeth, visits the campus occasionally. She told Tzu Chi volunteers that ever since the dentists started filling her cavities and she finally got dentures, her self-confidence increased significantly, and her life feels full of hope. Severiana even brought her child to the free clinic on October 8 to get braces.
Alvaro Sapata, who has had braces for three months to treat his dental malocclusion, also came to the free clinic that day. He studies philosophy at the university and drives about an hour and a half from school every month to see Dr. Lucero and help out on the Tzu Chi campus. He shares the hopes and dreams of many Mexicans in the region, explaining that “People living in Tijuana all hope to study and have a better life in the future, but this simple hope can be challenging if the family has no money.”
Alvaro explained that he was fortunate to be able to study thanks to a Catholic priest’s help. Moreover, he is thankful that his nephew, his sister’s son, attended Tzu Chi Tijuana Primary School since, apart from the quality education, it makes a lasting impression on students’ outlook on life.
Caring for a Pastor's Family
The free dental clinic day’s itinerary also included an individual charity case home visit. Volunteer Ah Mui Manguy brought Tzu Chi volunteers from the U.S. to visit Pastor Luis Humberto, who has four adults and five children in his household. Many years ago, the pastor often brought supplies to Tzu Chi Primary School to distribute to the children. That’s how the volunteers got to know him and learned of his needs when in 2021, he developed a gallbladder problem and urgently needed surgery.
Due to the family’s financial struggles, Pastor Humberto couldn’t afford the surgery cost of 900 USD. Thankfully, Tzu Chi Mexico’s Tijuana service center provided financial assistance to fund the surgery. Before the operation, he had to be on a strict diet and avoid many foods, but now he can eat anything again. Still, volunteer Jingyi Li encouraged him to become vegetarian so that his diet could be lighter and healthier for good.
When the volunteers arrived at Pastor Humberto’s home on October 8, his wife was busy preparing food for a church event, smiling joyfully. Seeing the Tzu Chi team come in, nine-year-old Samuel, one of the couple’s grandsons, immediately approached the volunteers to shake hands and say hello. His polite demeanor revealed the wholesome upbringing he was receiving in this household.
The pastor’s whole family, including grandsons Samuel and eight-year-old Walbel, use the dentistry services provided by the Tzu Chi service center in Tijuana. All of them love to laugh and show everyone their good teeth. Samuel told the volunteers that he likes learning about medicine and reads books on surgery, determined to become a good doctor in the future.
There was another visitor in the house that day, David Vid Tello, whom the pastor’s family cares for, who had come to wait for Tzu Chi volunteers. He has cataracts and can only see straight ahead with a narrow field of vision in one eye, while his sight in the other is getting blurry too. David was an electrician before, but since he had no money to see an ophthalmologist, his vision deteriorated until he could no longer work. The pastor hopes Tzu Chi can help David so he can resume working to support his family.
David, who is fluent in English, shared that he is a good driver, but his cataracts also prevent him from driving. He had previously taken his wife and children to the United States, but they were deported six years ago for not being legal residents. After the family returned to Mexico, David’s eyesight worsened to the point that he couldn’t work anymore. Consequently, his family now struggles to survive. Volunteer Ah Mui Pse recorded the case and will make follow-up arrangements to assist this family.
Expressing Gratitude to the Lucero Dental Group Volunteers
After the individual charity case home visit, Tzu Chi volunteers rushed back to the campus and started preparing dinner and snacks for the Lucero Dental Group team. This group of kindhearted doctors, nurses, and technicians worked from 10:30 AM until 4:00 PM and would only eat at the end of their volunteer service day. Tzu Chi volunteers lovingly prepared delicious vegetarian dishes for them. They also took the opportunity to encourage vegetarianism, which is beneficial for health and the environment and expresses compassion for all living beings.
Before the Lucero Dental Group team left, Tzu Chi volunteers also gave everyone a present. Inside the gift packages, they included Jing Si Aphorisms, an issue of the Tzu Chi USA Journal, and Jing Si food products, which all introduced more about Tzu Chi’s missions and philosophy. The free clinic on October 8 beautifully demonstrated the partnership of organizations and individuals on the road of charity social service, working together to care for impoverished Tijuana residents needing dental care.
Tzu Chi volunteers prepare and offer gifts for the Lucero Dental Group team who served during the free dental clinic. Photos/Shuli Lo
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