APRIL 21, 1997
Dr. Michael Karr and his daughter Stacey worked to provide dental care for the Haitian people.
Photo courtesy of the Karr family.
by Deborah Stone
They went to bring dental care to one of the poorest nations in the world, but more importantly, they tried to provide hope to people who are struggling to survive. Dr. Michael Karr, a dentist from Woodinville, and his daughter Stacey, a senior at Woodinville High School, recently returned from a ten-day goodwill mission to Haiti with the Alderwood Manor Community Church of Lynnwood.
This is Dr. Karr's second trip to Haiti. The first time, he went in November 1995 with a fifteen-member team to LaPointe, a town in the northern part of the country. He returned to the same place this time, accompanied by his daughter. She went as a dental assistant, having been trained last summer at her father's office in Granite Falls.
The other member in their team was a Systems Analyst for Boeing who went to program inventory and design new management programs for the hospital. The three were part of an eighteen-member group which was sent to three separate locations in Haiti.
The clinic Karr and his daughter worked in was adjunct to the House of Hope Orphanage on the United Field Missions' hospital compound. "We had two pre-1950 dental chairs and had to use a lot of creative thinking with regard to equipment," said Karr. Mostly they did extractions and some fillings because the majority of the people had never had dental care before, and their teeth were in such poor shape.
"The conditions in Haiti are very bad with an unemployment rate of 85% and an average income of $300 a year. The people are severely malnourished, and disease runs rampant. There is a 42% infant mortality rate, and the life expectancy is 44 years," informed Karr.
Despite the abject poverty and disease, the people always appear smiling and happy. According to Karr, they have a very fatalistic attitude and seem to be saying, "We're going to be poor for the rest of our lives, so let's just get on with living."
The Haitians welcomed the dental care team and were grateful for the medical attention. Approximately 150 people were seen by the Karrs, and the emphasis was solely on treating problems.
"We had to work at a knee-jerk level as it's impossible to do much preventative teaching. The people are operating in a purely survival mode and their teeth are in such atrocious shape," said Karr.
When the Karrs tried to distribute toothbrushes, many of the Haitians used them to clean their cooking pots. "Floss would probably be used to hang their clothes on," added Karr.
For Stacey Karr, the experience was an eye-opener, and initially she felt overwhelmed by what she saw. "I was bombarded with the filth, the smells, and the poverty, and yet the people were so friendly and happy. It struck me as strange until I understood their attitudes. They are thankful for what they have and don't want what they don't have because they don't know what else there is," she said.
Stacey felt a strong desire to help and to have an affect on the Haitians. "If I can help one person and provide some hope, then it's a start," she added. Returning to the U.S. was a bit of a reverse culture shock for her.
She sees her life through different eyes now and the materialism that surrounds her stands out vividly. "I feel guilty for having so much. Here in the U.S., most of us don't know how good we have it. We always seem to want more and more and often become so selfish and greedy," she said.
Both Karrs plan to return again next year. Dr. Karr's hope is to keep updating the equipment and also provide continuity to the clinic. He funds the trip by himself, and he and the other dentists who go all help gather supplies to bring with them.
Much more equipment is needed, and if people wish to help, they can contact him at (360) 691-7793. Another drive to help stock the orphanages in Haiti, called Operation Rainbow, is in progress at the Alderwood Manor Community Church. Call 774-7766 for more information.