Project Nicaragua: Part 4

I’ve been avoiding this post for a while because I’m not sure how I can properly summarize this trip and I don’t know what I can really say that will capture everything that this trip has done for me. Still, I feel like I owe this post a lot of time and love because this trip truly was so special to me and I ought to share that with others.

The part that always captures my heart the most whenever travelling to other countries and places is most definitely the people I have the privilege of meeting, and better yet, the people I’m lucky enough to get to share the experience with. One thing I’ve always noticed about mission trips and the simple act of volunteering is that it can bring people together and unite them amidst so many of our own differences. Within our team, we all went into the trip not knowing a single thing about each other. Yet after a week of so many eye opening experiences, there’s a special bond that you create with them because you get to share these experiences with individuals who share the same passion for service and giving back. And the doctors? Well, we’re worlds apart. Family structure, economic situation, upbringing, culture, education, political views…we’re very different people coming from very different parts of the world living very different lifestyles. But at the center of this week’s work and service, I found that we are all united by compassion for those in need of aid and strength and a shared desire to do everything in our power to make things better, para ayudar y amar el gente (se dice un doctor cuando se pregunté, “¿Por que quiere ser un cirujano?”). 

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Coming from the US and living in a very privileged area, it almost seems as if I lived in a dream world when I came to Nicaragua. There was nothing I had to worry about back home-I had 3 meals a day, a room all to myself, two loving parents, I went to great schools and received a solid education, I had the luxury of attending extracurriculars, and the last thing on my mind during my high school years was nothing even remotely close to a brain tumor or hemorrhage, instead I worried about which college I should go to and what color prom dress I should wear. Yet when I looked at some of the patients in the hospital or even just the nurses working for long hours in the ICU, I thought to myself, what different lives we lead. A patient who just got a portion of his brain tumor removed, a nurse not much older taking care of his intubation and helping him post-op in the ICU, and then there was me, a college student coming to visit and helping out in the hospital–all the same age, and yet we grew up so differently and our life experiences were so drastically divergent. It’s quite mind shattering, but these are the rare moments that make you realize that there’s still so much to see and learn out in the real world. It’s even more humbling to know that no matter where we’re from or how “privileged” we are, each and every one of us has our fair share of learned lessons, life experiences, struggles, weaknesses and battles.

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One of the medical residents teaching us about a certain procedure regarding a brain surgery.

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Dr. Gutierrez!

I think that prior to going to a developing nation like Nicaragua, my notion of “community service” was that of just being able to do good for the less privileged and make the world a better place. While I still hold this belief to be true, I think I also neglected the fact that things aren’t always so black and white, or so bad one second and suddenly all fine and dandy the next because of some service I was able to provide. I’d like to think that things improved because of something that I was able to do, but I also felt incredibly helpless to a certain extent at times. I felt very limited in my skills, communication, medical knowledge, and some things are just not in our power to fix. While working in a hospital, especially the ICU, you have to come to terms with the fact that people come and go. As an individual influenced largely by emotions, the powerlessness I felt while seeing a suffering and dying man in front of me was overwhelming and at times, unbearable, because I wanted so badly to save lives and fix things and improve the quality of life for everyone that sought help. I think the feeling that I felt at that point was a defining moment for me- I need to be able to do something, utilize my skills and knowledge to ameliorate the pain of this individual, do something. And I couldn’t, because I didn’t know how. But that feeling of wishing and willing that I could have done everything in my power to help this person was special because I know that this is a huge driving force behind some of my future aspirations–shaping the career I want for myself and treating patients in general–that I want to be the person that is able to do everything in her skills and power to leave a lasting impact on another person’s life, no matter how small, and that we all have the capacity to be those who make a change.

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Last day at the hospital

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First picture as a team (Day 1) at LAX

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Final picture before heading back to the US on our last day together

Dearest Nicaragua, thank you for showing me so much love throughout this week-through the people, through the experiences, through the rough patches, and the beautiful moments. Thank you for showing me that if there’s one thing we can all afford, it’s to be happy and find joy in our simple love for life.

I’ve seen the sights of a serene world surrounding me on a peaceful boat ride in Lake Nicaragua, tasted the authentic fried plátanos con arroz y frijoles and some grilled carne asada, listened to the dreams and stories of so many unique individuals, and most of all, felt the life pumping through our hearts and bodies keeping us alive in every moment, and giving us the power to go forth and care for others and love. Now that is truly invaluable.

“He who devotes himself to service with a clear conscience, will day by day grasp the necessity for it in greater measure, and will continually grow richer in faith. The path of service can hardly be trodden by one who is not prepared to renounce self-interest, and to recognize the conditions of his birth. Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and will make not only for our own happiness but that of the world at large.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

Thanks for reading ♥

Project Nicaragua: Part 3

I think it’s about time that I give this blog some lovin’. The fact that I’ve neglected this post for so long is starting to make me wonder if I’ve in fact forgotten all of the wonderful memories I’ve made in Nicaragua. Better get right to it.

So, after a couple of very draining and exhausting days in the hospital, we had our rest day where we basically spent the entire day to go see Nicaragua and explore this special city. First stop was a market in Masaya where we went around to shop for little souvenirs. I think my absolute favorite part of being able to go to the market was speaking to the shop owners and being able to practice my Spanish. Spanish was always one of my favorite subjects throughout middle school and high school and it’s just so applicable. Particularly in clinic where we have a large number of Spanish-speaking patients, Spanish is so useful and it always makes me so happy to use what I’ve learned in the real world. I spent quite a while bargaining with a seller who turned out to be around my age and it’s always so interesting to see how different we are as individuals and how the place we come from and the world we live in affects who we are. Sometimes there are small and insignificant moments like these-conversations with a friendly stranger, learning about the taxi driver and his family life, sights of the street, glimpses of another person’s world-that somehow hold so much meaning and make me never want to stop travelling and growing and learning and living.

Next stop: Volcán Mombacho, Nicaragua. We went ziplining on a canopy tour that took us through a lush rainforest. It was already raining by the time we had gotten there, but nothing our team couldn’t handle, obviously. In fact, I would say that the rain may have even made the adventure all the more exciting, especially because it did the lines go just a bit faster! This was my second time ziplining (my first being in Cancún years ago) but this was the first time I had been ziplining in the rainforest, and it was absolutely wonderful and thrilling. I do have to admit, we were ziplining on the cables quite fast so I wasn’t really able to actually enjoy the view for very long, but all in all, being able to see another side of Nicaragua other than the hospital and the city was such a great experience. Besides, being surrounded by so much green is a nice view no matter how fast you’re going.

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Hakuna matata all your worries away, team.

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After ziplining (completely drenched), we headed to Granada and went on a boat ride on Lake Nicaragua to tour a bunch of the little islands. Everything up to this point had been quite busy, whether it was observing surgeries, helping nurses, shopping, going places, doing things…so it truly felt nice to just sit on a boat and relax. Being out on that lake was so serene and there were so many moments of complete tranquility that I really enjoyed having to myself.

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View of Volcán Mombacho from Lake Nicaragua 

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Boat ride around Isletas de Granada

Halfway through the boat tour, we all started screaming in excitement and childish delight when we discovered monkeys on one of the little islands. Apparently they called this island, Mono Island, or Monkey Island. The tour guide driving us probably thought we were a little too crazy when we went a bit overboard in our excitement, but I mean, when else do you get to see monkeys in the wild, swinging from the trees and hanging out with their monkey buddies!? (Monkey buddies not pictured, hahaha).

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Well, we’re finally getting to the last stop of today’s excursions. We headed towards the city area of Granada to grab some lunch and do a little more last minute shopping. Granada is well known for their architecture, and the colonial style church behind us in the picture is a very well-known historical building in Nicaragua. There’s so much culture in this place that a couple of hours is simply not enough to absorb it all, but I’ve loved every second I got to spend in all these unique cities. Despite not being able to see all of what Nicaragua has to offer, spending time with my team and taking in all the sights and sounds of Nicaragua was unlike any other place I’ve been to. I think being in Nicaragua was a vivid reminder that this is what I love to do-I love to travel, I love to learn and I want to see as much as I can of this world as I can while I still have the chance.
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The end of a long day.

Throughout all of this, I’ve realized something. You know what? We’re still so young. I’m young, and I live for these adventures where I just learn so much more about others, the world around me, other cultures, and as always, myself. Why should we let so many of these little problems here and there get in the way of enjoying life and celebrating the moments that make up this wonderful life? I may be young, but life is still so short. With the given time we have left here on this earth, I think every place we ever step foot in, every individual we encounter, every moment we enjoy, every obstacle we overcome and every single little thing that comes our way has something to teach us. Sometimes we lose sight of the world around us from being so consumed in our own troubles or we forget what’s truly important from being so caught up in our own routines and judgments. So go out, leave these mundane things behind, and perhaps you’ll rediscover the purpose of your journey, or maybe even expand your horizons-there’s just so much to see and learn, after all.

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey”. ~John Hope Franklin

Project Nicaragua: Part 2

Life in the neurosurgical unit, especially as a surgeon-is utterly exhausting. I still don’t know how these surgeons are able to drag themselves out of bed every morning, only after a couple of hours of sleep and go back to doing surgeries again the next morning. I don’t doubt that the surgeons in the US work hard, but from what I’ve witnessed in the Nicaraguan hospitals, these brain surgeons are extremely hardworking and put their all into their job, staying overnight at the hospital and sacrificing so much of their own personal needs to cater to the needs of all the people waiting outside the hospital for the next available doctor. Particularly since this hospital we volunteered at was a public hospital, the entire atmosphere in comparison to the private, wealthy hospitals I’ve volunteered at in the States is notably different. Sure, the brain surgeons get a good pay relative to the rest of the population in Nicaragua, but they’re not making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, like the majority of neurosurgeons in the States. Either way, it’s enough to sustain themselves, but in an impoverished nation like Nicaragua where not all people are able to have access to private healthcare, I feel that the doctors do everything that they can to try to take care of as many patients as they possibly can.

These doctors are so selfless in the work that they are able to provide to the local community and their care for all of the patients and their families was just so memorable, and that’s something so simple that I aspire to be.

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In continuation of Part 1, we spent the night in the ICU, taking care of the patients, bathing them, and assisting the nurses in other tasks throughout the night. Not even college life prepares you for the amount of exhaustion that we experienced during this trip. For the surgeons who do this for a living, my respect and admiration for them is endless.

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\ Life in the neurosurgical department is extremely tiring.

After heading back to the hotel for a couple of hours for a quick nap, we headed back to the hospital the next morning, and we presented the doctors with all of the donations we brought with us from the US. A local dentist donated some dental supplies, so we went around to all the patient rooms handing out toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss. The gratitude in the patients’ eyes and their joy for something so small that we take for granted in our own daily routine left me quite astounded-for them to just be so happy and thankful over receiving a toothbrush was just a simple reminder to take a step back and for one moment, stop wishing we could have more than what we already had. Many of these individuals don’t have much, yet they can be so content with something as simple as a toothbrush. I think that says quite a lot about what we have to learn from them about all the exorbitant desires we have in our own life, doesn’t it?

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Handing out free smiles!

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A wheelchair in the hallway of the Nicaraguan hospital.

The doctors and their immense gratitude for the donations we were able to provide for them is such a wonderful feeling.

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Our medical team and some of the medical residents!

I can’t even put into words all that these doctors, patients, nurses, family members, and fellow team members have taught me, and it’s only been two days in the hospital. Going into this experience, I already knew that I was not cut out for a surgical career, and I had already disregarded any type of career in the hospital  in my future aspirations as well. Nonetheless, it’s always the people that make the difference. Even if being in the hospital is a melancholy environment, what these doctors are able to do for the patients in this hospital is so humanitarian and their hearts are just full of so much love and so much more significant than all the little situations that we encountered here and there. Within the first few days, I had lost my luggage, one of the team members got her phone stolen, another team member got all of the cash she carried with her from the US stolen as well, and there had even been some improper planning and miscommunication in regards to our arrival. Even while we had thought all of these conflicts were so major and would affect our trip, it didn’t take us long to realize that these are just objects and in the big scheme of things, not really important. Instead, what is important is that we had the privilege to work with such dedicated individuals and what they were able to give us and teach us was truly invaluable.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your own subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Project Nicaragua: Part 1

It seems like I haven’t been able to just sit down and relax for the longest time, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to just be sitting here on my bed typing this right now. Well, as you may or may not know, I was in Nicaragua for a medical mission trip earlier this month and I haven’t been able to just sit down and write about all my experiences because I’ve been so incredibly busy. So now, I’m taking the opportunity to just sit down and talk about all that has happened during that one exceptionally special week of my life. Guess I better get right to it.

The perfect storm. That’s how I would describe the start of my trip-everything that could have wrong basically went wrong. Yet strangely we were able to deal with all of the situations just fine and we pulled through. So this is a brief rundown of how my morning looked:

  1. Drove to team leader’s house at 3 am
  2. Arrived at LAX with our team at 4 am
  3. Checked in around 5:30 am
  4. Went to terminal and waited for boarding for around 2 hours
  5. Got on plane, found out there was maintenance issue, got off plane
  6. Waited for another hour or so
  7. Found out before boarding that the delay caused us to miss only connecting flight
  8. Flight switched to next day (me and friend got separated from rest of team, put on separate flight)
  9. Got ride back to car (at team leader’s house) and found out that I was just about to get towed
  10. Drove back home
  11. Repeat process for the next morning
  12. Finally arrived in Managua
  13. Found out luggage was left in Miami

Okay, well if you haven’t caught the drift by now, I’m sure you can tell that up to this point, the trip was already really hectic and it was hard to not get frustrated with everything else that was going on. Still, just to finally be in Nicaragua was probably the biggest relief at the end of the day and that was the one thing I was most thankful for in that moment. When we arrived in Managua, the rest of our team members had already worked the first hospital shift for that day and faced a lot of difficulties on their own, so all around we were just really frustrated with everything that had happened up to this point. Anyways, nothing felt better than to be sitting in Nicaragua, in one piece, and joined with the rest of our team members.

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Cordobas-the currency in Nicaragua.

Fast forward a bit. After getting settled and finally getting some sleep, we woke up early the next morning to start our 24 hour shift. Insane, right?! I was completely drained emotionally and physically, but at this point, my mentality was, Throw anything you want my way, I can handle anything now kind of attitude.

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Arroz y frijoles, plátanos maduros, huevos rancheros, queso…

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Immediately upon stepping foot into the  hospital, I was just hit with completely new and different sights, sounds, smells…I’ve volunteered in a hospital throughout high school and I’ve never been exposed to some of the things I saw at the public hospital we were volunteering at. Going on trips like these are usually almost always accompanied by some type of cultural shock-I know I’m privileged enough to live with some of the luxuries I have, and being able to go to an impoverished country where they hardly have access to the basic necessities is eye-opening, really. Even having gone to other rural areas that are less developed in the past, it’s always the same thing every time-new things to take in, see and learn.

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Within the first few hours of my shift, I accomplished a lot of “firsts”-seeing a public hospital in Nicaragua, watching my first open brain surgery, sitting in on all the doctors reviewing all the patients/procedures, interacting with brain surgeons, talking to residents, conversing with some of the patients and family members in Spanish and watched a CT scan. And that’s not even all. The rest of the day consisted of watching other surgeries, learning to take vitals, one on one patient interaction, assisting the nurses, and completing other tasks normally done within a hospital.

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Being able to see the life of a brain surgeon in Nicaragua was completely mind shattering, but I gained so much respect for the work that these doctors do and the care that they are able to provide for their patients, simply because all of them just had such a genuine desire to take care of these patients. Their one goal was just to help treat these patients and give them the help that they needed. I never really was able to witness this in hospitals in the US to the extent that I was able to see in Nicaragua, and I’ve realized that it’s such an incredibly difficult career to take on. Many of these surgeons do up to 3 or 4 surgeries in a day, depending on how long each surgery takes-but it’s not uncommon for them to just pull 24 hour shifts and go out and back into the surgery room for additional surgeries.

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By the time it was around 3 am, I was already half-dead; meanwhile, one of the surgeons we had worked with earlier was in the operation room for another surgery. How hardworking they are. We ended up falling asleep for a couple of hours on the beds in one of the doctors’ rooms, and to think that I didn’t do half as much of the work that the brain surgeons do on a day to day basis just made me feel so much sincere admiration and awe for the time that the doctors devote to their work. I think saying that I have a lot to learn from these doctors would be an understatement, because they were truly a significant factor in making this trip so special and dear to my heart.

A quote that adequately sums up how I feel about the doctors we had the privilege of learning from:

Non nobis solum nati sumus. (We are not born for ourselves alone.)

~Marcus Tullius Cicero

Panko Fried Shrimp

I’m back in the kitchen again! These past couple of weeks have been hectic- from going to Nicaragua (I’ll blog more about that later), moving in to my new summer apartment, starting new classes, volunteering in clinic, and still making the time to study and do homework in between. Cooking has become a little outlet for my roommate and I, and it’s something that I find myself looking forward to at the end of every day.

Living on our own temporarily has definitely made me feel even more independent-going grocery shopping, learning to shop on a budget, meal planning, scheduling my day out, going to clinic, coming back home, having to make my own dinner and knowing how to take care of myself. Being on my own definitely feels like a challenge at times, but there are also plenty of perks.

Now that we have our own kitchen, we’ve been able to experiment a lot more, and there have been plenty of successful meals along the way, which I couldn’t be more proud of. Good thing I have a roommate to experience it all with me. Hurray for awesome cooking partners!

For my WIAW this week…

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb. shrimp
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 2 cups Panko bread crumbs
  • Oil, for deep frying
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

Clean, peel and de-vein shrimp, making slight lengthwise slit down middle of shrimp. Remove head and tail.

Flatten out shrimp or “inside butterfly” the shrimp.

Season shrimp lightly with salt and pepper.

Mix egg and flour (you can add more flour if necessary). Add milk.

Coat shrimp evenly in batter, then roll in Panko bread crumbs until completely covered in bread crumbs.

Heat oil over medium-high heat, around 325 °F. To test if oil is ready, drop a few pieces of Panko in oil-if ready, it should immediately start bubbling/sizzling.

Deep fry shrimp in batches (about 3 or 4 at a time).

Flip halfway through deep frying, making sure both sides are golden brown and crust has formed around shrimp.

Transfer to paper towel to drain oil.

Serve with ketchup, Tonkatsu sauce, tartar sauce, or Worcestershire sauce. Or whatever else makes you happy.

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We enjoyed our Panko fried shrimp with a classic Chinese dish-stir-fried egg and tomato seen here.

Bon appétit! ♥

#100HappyDays: Day 100

Day 100. I did it! Well, I never actually thought I’d end up following through with this challenge and though I’m glad to have completed all 100 days of this challenge, a part of me is also sad that it’s over. I never really expected I’d have something to look forward to at the end of every day, reflecting on my daily life and all the little bits and pieces that made me feel so grateful to feel joy, and just to be able to have these simple moments that could be cherished day by day.

Today, like every day, is special in its own way while not really being that all that special, or particularly out of the blue, if that even makes sense. What I mean to say is that each day offers us the chance to learn something new, whether it’s about ourselves, other people, the community, the world we live in, maybe even humanity in general-you never really know what each day holds. Sometimes it’s the good, and sometimes it can be a bit uglier. But as with all things in life, there is always a little something to learn from even the uglier parts, the parts we don’t really want to face.

At the same time, we as humans like to stick to a routine, find some sort of stability in our lives, function by a schedule, use time to keep track of every single task and chore, which I guess makes every day not so special-because it’s kind of just the same old, same old, right? We go through the same thing every day-what’s so special about that? Wake up, eat, school, work, eat, break, more work, come home, eat, sleep. During this past year in college, schedules are never really the same, even on a day-to-day basis with different classes every day and what not. But, for the most part, I still like to stick to a schedule and get in a familiar habit, and this usually results in me being entirely drained of energy and just barely dragging myself through the week.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that through it all, this challenge has not been easy at times and I’ve realized that this is just a part of my nature. Maybe even a part of human nature if you want to go there. I want to have a balance in my life and stick to a plan and go through with it. But that’s not always the case, is it? Maybe we’re supposed to force ourselves to do the extraordinary, challenge ourselves to do the impossible, push ourselves to do the things that scare us, face the things that are just plain hard. Perhaps that’s how life is meant to be lived at times. I don’t really know.

What I do know, however, is that each and every one of us has been given a life, an opportunity to make the best of what we are given and if we don’t take the chance to seize every single opportunity, lesson, and moment that comes our way or fight like hell to push through the hardships and trials, then who will? We’ve got to learn to live for ourselves. People often associate living for others with being selfless, but this isn’t always necessarily true. Living for yourself doesn’t make you selfish, ignorant, close-minded or unhappy. It means learning to love yourself, trust yourself, find power in yourself, know yourself, accept yourself, believe in yourself, and value yourself. And if you can do all of these things while being your best self, then there’s really nothing that can stop you from doing the things that are truly important to you and matter, the things that you are passionate about, or the things that make you genuinely happy.

So, I guess to end off my long and nonsensical rambling, here I am writing about my last day of this challenge. As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been volunteering in a dental clinic in the free student run dental clinics serving the underprivileged communities of San Diego. Each day in clinic, we’re always presented with something new-different patients, cases, dentists, procedures, fellow volunteers, etc. It’s both fun and tiring at the same time, but I’ve loved all of the various opportunities I’ve been given to learn more about the technical aspects of dentistry, dealing with patients, caring for them in a humanistic approach, empowering them as individuals, communicating with dentists and other staff, learning about running a private practice, and just so much more. I’m just going to be honest and say that there have been a countless number of times where I’ve questioned my motives for wanting to go into this career, whether or not I am actually suited for this type of job, whether all the time, work and money is really worth it, and I can’t say that I’ve found an answer yet to all my doubts and concerns. There’s no resounding “no” or “yes” that tells me that this is the right path for me, but parts of this journey are out of my own hands. One dentist did, however, give me a solid word or encouragement that’s always good to hear-if you really want it, you’ll always get it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you it’s too hard, you can’t do it or it’s not worth it. If you truly love it, you’ll get there.

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The dentists and group of volunteers I got to work with today!

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“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” ~Woodrow Wilson

Hope your day is filled with happiness ♡