BRITT | While Renee Diemer sat in her swivel chair at Diemer Realty Thursday morning and reflected on her mission trip to Haiti in early November, her voice cracked and her eyes welled up with tears.
“I always get teary-eyed when I talk about it. The little kids,” she said, pausing to collect herself. “It’s just unbelievable what they have to deal with ... They have nothing.”
Diemer, owner of Diemer Realty, in Britt, was one of about 10 individuals from North Iowa who went on a 10-day trip to Les Cayes, Haiti, to provide dental care to children and adults through GoServ Global, a non-denominational, faith-based organization that provides humanitarian aid to “the most vulnerable in communities around the world.”
Haiti — a Caribbean country that has been ravaged by multiple hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters within the past decade — has been home to a GoServ Global dental clinic that, with the help of Zion Lutheran Church of Clear Lake, has provided three treatment rooms, a sterilization area and modern equipment, like a digital X-ray, to Haitians since 2015.
Diemer, who was a dental hygienist for 33 years in Garner before becoming a full-time realtor, heard about GoServ Global and its dental mission trips in Haiti. It was during a one-hour continuing education class with Dr. Tom Bieber, a dentist at Lake Dental Associates in Clear Lake, less than a year ago.
“I jumped on board right away,” she said.
Diemer said it was her love of children, as well as Bieber’s and others’ experiences, that prompted her to grab a pamphlet and register for the trip.
But what she experienced in Haiti was far more than she’d ever imagined.
Diemer shared stories about a large number of barefoot Haitians walking and working among free-roaming animals, muddy roads and piles of garbage in their neighborhoods largely comprised of Safe T Homes, made by Sukup Manufacturing Co. in Sheffield.
“The level of poverty that they’re in shocked me,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine the struggles that they have because ... I’ve been to Greece, Mexico, all over, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The dental clinic, which is located among other GoServ Global facilities, including orphanages, had Haitians congregating outside its door before it opened each day Diemer was there.
Diemer said at the beginning of each day, all the people waiting outside the clinic are examined and the ones in the worst condition are seen first.
“They wait in line to get in, and they wait all day long because you can only see so many,” she said. “Some people have appointments and some people don’t get seen, and that’s the sad part.”
Diemer said the clinic saw about 70 patients in one day, which is nearly 10 times what the average dentist sees in the U.S. in a day. She estimated her group served more than 400 people in the six days it provided dental care.
“It’s a tip off the iceberg,” she said.
Diemer, who was one of two dental hygienists on the trip, said the group was able to see so many individuals during its days there because they “had a really good team that worked well together.”
As a dental hygienist, Diemer primarily cleaned teeth.
She said much of the work the dentists, like Bieber, provided to patients of all ages involved extracting teeth because many of them “don’t have the money to be able to have their teeth take care of” regularly. The dentists are starting to do some fillings and some other work, but extractions are the most popular.
“It’s mainly to get the people out of pain,” Diemer said.
She said some of the Haitians seeking dental care also came with cysts, tumors and other “unusual circumstances that you don’t see in the United States.”
According to GoServ Global, the No. 1 cause of suicide in third-world countries is tooth pain, and there are only three dentists for every 100,000 people in Haiti — a country of more than 10 million.
“Being able to give back even if it was 10 days, you felt like you helped make an indent in their society,” Diemer said.
As part of the trip, Diemer and others in her group, including Bieber, a radiologist, dental assistants and office support, trained Haitians in dental care, so they can help within their communities when the mission group is not there.
Right now, a dental mission group from Iowa travels to Haiti “a couple times a year,” but it’s the goal of Bieber and Dr. Jason Skinner, also a dentist at Lake Dental Associates, to have an area dentist visit the clinic in Haiti every month. The next trip is planned for January 2018, she said.
“You do not have to be in the dental field to go on these mission trips,” she said, noting she’d consider returning on another dental mission trip in the future.
Now, having returned to Britt nearly a month ago, Diemer said she is grateful — grateful for her family, her health and her ability to help Haitians on the mission trip.
“We don’t know how lucky we really are to live in America and to have everything that we have provided for us and our children,” she said.
For more information about GoServ Global and its missions, visit www.goservglobal.org.