Tallulah and I have been on numerous international reporting trips together, the most recent being El Salvador, a country in Central America that has long endured civil unrest. The nation is no longer at war, but violence still rages, with 12 murders every day in a country of about six million people.
A department of the National Civilian Police keeps foreigners safe from gang violence.
Our purpose was to cover the work of the Canadian NGO Speroway, which was founded by Ken Dick of Ontario. One of the stories, a profile of Ken called “Man on a Mission,” was published in the September issue of CPA Magazine.
At an age when most people would be retired, Dick travelled to El Salvador to help on this medical and dental mission as well as open a Speroway-funded health centre outside the capital city San Salvador.
Ken Dick in a slum in El Salvador.
Every day, the Speroway team of dentists, physicians, nurses, technicians, paramedics and hygienists travelled to a new slum to help the poor with a myriad of health problems. Poverty prevents them from visiting physicians or dentists. Neglect of simple health problems means that things like cavities escalate into painful and sometimes life-threatening conditions.
Another reason for poor health is diet. El Salvadorans eat too much sugar and fat — largely because they have adopted a Western fast-food diet. In San Salvador, food chain outlets sit side by side — cheap and tempting. Most ubiquitous of all is sugary pop like Coca-Cola. The consequences are dire; children’s oral health declines, affecting their ability to eat and grow.
A billboard for Coca-Cola dominates the skyline in the capital of San Salvador.
Here is an excerpt from the story:
“This slum, which sits on the city’s former garbage dump, was created by the survivors of El Salvador’s many natural disasters. There is no running water or sewage system. Toilets are holes in the ground; when they overflow, a new hole is dug. Few homes have electricity. There are few jobs. Teenage girls birth a succession of babies whose prospects are as bleak as their mothers’. Come nightfall, the slum becomes a hangout for gang members. This is a place, says Dick, where hope is dim. But something as simple as a visit to the dentist or doctor can reignite hope. “If you do not have your health, you can’t do anything else,” he says.”
And here are just a few of Tallulah’s photos:
Coca-Cola branding is ubiquitous, and indoctrinated into holiday celebrations.
Children suck on cold bags of cola for hours, keeping the teeth awash in acid and sugar.
A rotten tooth extracted from the mouth of a young patient.