Dreaming of a Post Pandemic Vacation…Think Mexico!

by Cheryl Young

Where is the best place to holiday in Mexico? Hint: it doesn’t have a beach. Nor bands of roving teenagers or reggae music blaring from the local tiki bar. Nary a noisy waterski or revving power boat pulling a hang glider to mar your afternoon siesta.

What it does have is fabulous food, picturesque, romantic surroundings, stunning artwork to buy or just admire, high caliber live music every night of the week, and, some say, the most agreeable weather on the planet. This hidden gem is San Miguel de Allende, a colonial city with well-preserved mansions and grand homes that encompass four centuries of Spanish influence.   An easy drive to the mountains north of Mexico City, San Miguel is sophisticated and cosmopolitan, yet laid back — just what is needed after a taxing, tense year of working under COVID restrictions.

San Miguel has been the destination of choice for generations of Canadian cognoscenti, including a former Canadian ambassador to Mexico, artist and Olympic figure skater, Toller Cranston, and folk singer, Bram Morrison. Some Canadians plan to come for a week and then end up extending their stay for a month. Others have been known to buy a house on impulse during their first visit and then spend the rest of the holiday strolling around with stars in their eyes, marveling at their good fortune to be a part of such a magical place.

There are other Canadian connections to San Miguel – every February, there is a highly anticipated Writer’s Conference, which attracts over 3000 people. Noted Canadian writers who have been invited to give keynotes or lectures include the venerable Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, Elizabeth Hay, Jane Urquhart, Lisa Moore and Joseph Boyden.

There is another side to the magic of San Miguel, one with deep historical connections to the dental profession. U.S. and Canadian residents here realize how fortunate they are to have discovered this place, and so they are anxious to give back to the community through active volunteerism and fundraising. Fifty years ago, a small group of self-described “do-gooders” took up the challenge of providing health services to the children of families who could not afford to provide it for them. The families only pay a nominal amount, 10 pesos, each time their child visits a Pro Niños health care professional. To put that in perspective, 10 pesos is a little over 60 cents Canadian!

To meet the ever-present need for health services for the poor, in 2009 Patronato built and staffed a Children’s Health Centre in town, which offers professional medical and dental services, psychological care, and nutritional counselling. However, there are over 500 outlying communities throughout the municipality of San Miguel de Allende. The residents in those areas, called the campo, live in poverty, sometimes without running water or electricity. Often, they cannot afford even the bus fare to get to town for treatment.

So, the dentists and doctors go to them!

Every weekday morning at 7:00 am, two dedicated Mobile Dental Units and three mobile Medical-Dental Units leave for the countryside. The units are built to be sturdy since the roads they will navigate are rough and rugged. They are fully equipped and have all of the working instruments found in any dental or medical office. In a brilliant example of stretching our limited resources, our dental assistants are also the units’ drivers!

The Patronato dentists provide more than just checkups – they educate the children on the importance of diligent oral care. In advance of receiving dental treatment, each child is required to first watch a brief video on preventative dental care. This is followed by an interactive educational presentation in which our dentist talks not only about the importance of brushing their teeth but also the benefit of a more nutritious diet.

To get these important messages across effectively to an audience of children, the dentists use puppet props for their presentations. The puppets which have very large teeth were donated by a group of Canadian dental nursing students from Red Deer, Alberta. The dentists also have large poster boards that are used to help the children and the parents identify which foods are better for their oral health. After the dental treatment is complete, each child receives their own toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste.

Patronato Pro Niños employs six dentists, four doctors, a psychologist, a nutritionist, and a social worker who treat the children. They also pay for medicines and the services of specialist doctors, therapists, and laboratories for children with special needs. As well, Pro Niños pays a portion of the cost of transportation to specialty hospitals and rehabilitation centers in nearby cities.

The need for medical and dental services does not stop for a pandemic. In early January of this year, Patronato launched a new mobile Medical-Dental Unit – the culmination of 3 years of determined fundraising by the organization and their partner, AMISTAD CANADA. The relationship with this CRA registered charity allows Canadians to get a tax receipt when giving to this Mexican charity. Together with Patronato, Amistad organizes fundraising events to support the project such as the Scotia Bank Virtual Race. All of these efforts toward raising funds were certainly needed – the customized mobile Medical-Dental Unit cost 1,900,000 pesos, or over $120,000 CDN!

There is always a need for more funds – for the salaries and honoraria for the driver, the doctor and the dentist who will staff the new mobile unit, for gas and maintenance, and insurance and repairs. As was mentioned earlier, the roads to these villages out in the Mexican desert are rough!

If we have enticed you to include San Miguel as part of your upcoming, post pandemic vacation, we also want to extend an invitation for you to come out and take a ride to the campo in one of our Mobile Units. Seeing dentistry in the field is an incredible experience and you will be amazed at what these travelling dentists can accomplish. Contact Nory Contractor, Executive Director at Patronato Pro Niños for more details. norycontractor@patronatoproninos.org.  If you would like more information or to learn how to donate through AMISTAD CANADA, go to www.amistadcanada.org.

About the Author

Cheryl Young is a freelance writer who divides her time between Canada and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.