Published on

Winnipeg mission brings
smiles and sight to the Philippines

A patient receives vision care from the Smiles and Sight 2024 Mission
in Pagbilao, Quezon province

Winnipeg dentists, hygienists, and opticians teamed up with counterparts in the Philippines for the Smiles and Sight 2024 Mission from February 19 to March 2, 2024.

The initiative was steered by dentist Dr. Tricia Magsino Barnabé, who donated proceeds from her musical revue New Beginnings in a New World to subsidise some of the costs of running this mission in the Philippines.

Dr. Barnabé solicited the assistance of Dr. Tom Colina, who mobilised a Kindness in Action dental team of 19 members and Dr. Ronald Mervin Sison, a licenced optometrist in the Philippines, to assemble a group of 17 Philippine optometrists and staff to add vision and optical care.

Dental care in Pagbilao, Quezon province
The dental workspace of the Smiles and Sight 2024 Mission in Pagbilao, Quezon province

Other participants from Winnipeg’s Filipino community included Sharon Colina, Alana Colina, Carol Colina, Maria Pagdato, Rio Pagdato, Dr. Melanie Dulguime, a licenced dentist in the Philippines, hygienist Ursula Rosati, and Vicky and Ador Cabrera.

Temporary clinics were set up in two impoverished villages established by the charity organization ANCOP (Answering the Cry of the Poor). The first mission site was in a village in the middle of Quezon City slums on Visayas Avenue, and the second mission site was in the community of Pagbilao in Quezon province.

Children, adults, and seniors were served during a total of six and a half workdays. From the mission sites and surrounding villages, 632 dental patients were assessed for dental disease and other oral treatment needs. From these patients, 825 tooth extractions were performed and 320 restorations on a total of 550 tooth surfaces. In addition, 246 patients were provided with dental cleanings, oral hygiene presentations, instructions, and fluoride application.

The eye care team saw 778 patients, who were tested for standard refraction, colour vision, depth perception, and heterophoria (eye muscle deviations). The team dispensed 517 pairs of glasses for either distance only or bifocal glasses. Reading glasses were also distributed to patients in need. Patients that presented with conditions such as cataracts, low vision, colour blindness, and other conditions, were referred to local specialists for further assessment.

On the dental perspective, planning the mission posed several challenges. The logistics of transportation details, housing, food planning and transporting dental equipment and supplies from Canada to the Philippines was complex. Dental providers needed approval from the Philippine government to perform dental treatment to locals in their country. At the mission sites, preparing clinics with equipment and supplies, then constantly sanitizing, and sterilizing dental tools, was time consuming. Team members who were not trained in the dental field were responsible for carrying out several tasks after receiving a crash course in dental assisting and management. Dental providers and those performing hygiene treatment worked uncomfortably in extremely hot, humid environments while in standing position, as patients sat on chairs or laid flat on tables.

On the eye care perspective, it was difficult coordinating with two different teams of practitioners with their vision division leader who was 12,000 km away from his group members. And until the funding was confirmed, just months prior to the mission, detailed planning with the teams about the workstations was shared with little time to spare. Furthermore, one to three weeks after the mission ended, 517 pairs of eye glasses still required dispensing to patients by the vision and optical teams.

Despite all these obstacles, all the volunteers found the mission experience very rewarding. Ursula Rosati, a Winnipeg hygienist who joined the dental team, is the daughter of Lita Mendoza Rosati and Rocco Rosati. It was a great opportunity for her to join the Smiles and Sight 2024 Mission to the Philippines, since this was the first time she and her sister Odessa had ever been to the Philippines and the only time in 45 years for her mother Lita to return to her hometown. Her sentiments about the mission: “My favourite part about the dental mission was seeing how appreciative the patients were. They all had such a happy demeanour and positive mindset; despite the challenges they face day to day. And the kids could melt your heart! Working in 30° C wasn’t easy but so worth it.”


The Smiles and Sight 2024 mission team at the Pagbilao, Quezon site