The Joy of Service Above Self

We find great meaning in serving others in need. SJC Rotarians traveled to Ensenada Mexico to partake in a long-running project to provide dental and vision services to impoverished school children.

A few of the team members at the Ensenada Dental and Vision clinic on October 22, 2022.

The brainchild of Dr. Charles "Chuck" Tozzer, who has been holding these clinics for more than 30 years, the clinics travel to where the need is, instead of to a set location. More than 300 clinics treating more than 31,000 patients in 10 countries involving more than a thousand volunteers and students from 10 dental schools has resulted in more than $12.5 million in free services.

Dr. Tozzer, treating a young patient.

What started out with Chuck and a couple of volunteers with the equipment in the back of a station wagon progressed to an old Dodge camper van (that had to be pushed across the border on its final journey) and then to a dedicated van to hold all of the equipment.

Rotary grants first helped purchase portable dental chairs. The next grant purchased dental stations from Rota-Dent, a project of the Rotary Club of Newberg, Oregon that provides portable low-cost dental equipment for qualified organizations. Then, a Rotary Global Grant with participation by eight Rotary clubs, two Rotary Districts and The Rotary Foundation, purchased a heavy-duty Sprinter that enabled all of the supplies and equipment for 12 dental stations to be transported to the various clinic locations. The van also holds dedicated air compressors and generators to operate "off the grid", along with a full sterilization suite that ensures patient safety.

The need can feel overwhelming at times. Parents queue with the children for hours. Many times the families are recent immigrants from Southern Mexico or Central America who have traveled to Ensenada seeking work.

Members of Ensenada Calafia Rotary collect clothing and other necessities the families can purchase for a nominal amount.

A relatively recent addition to the clinics is provided by Rotarian Fred Stellhorn, an ophthalmologist from Manteca Rotary (and the brother of PDG Cisca Stellhorn). Fred provides free vision exams and glasses. Most who are afforded glasses turn out to be the parents.

And what's a great project without the involvement of Rotary Youth Exchange students? Coordinated by Ensenada Calafia Rotarian Matela Zepeda Hernández, six Exchange students participated in all aspects of the clinic; including a school beautification project of painting a retaining wall made from old tires. The students were Pedro Veiga - Brasil, Clara Boel - Denmark, Calista Lor-Leprivey and Clemence Deschamps - France, Rosa Schultz - Germany

and Aurora Righes - Italy. Each year, the Ensenada Rotary clubs exchange a large number of 15 year old students. They give up a year of "official" schooling, but make up for it with an incredible experience. Each student is required to be fluent in language of their home country as well as Spanish and English. District 4100, which includes Ensenada sponsors more than 60 RYE students each year.

And, of course, it's not all hard work. Getting together with other Rotarians for a memorable dinner is really special. We get to exchange stories, experiences and meet up with others who have the same interest in serving others.