JUNE 24, 2010

A few of the girls at Nehemiah House put on their own puppet show after a brown-out power outage inspired an improvised puppet show Bible study.

A View From Me to You – Part 2

By Monique Judkins

   This article is part two of Monique’s personal account of a missions trip to Nehemiah House in the Philippines. Missed part one? To read it, click here.

   Morning came way too early and the jetlag kicked in. I awoke fully at 2 a.m. Not even a little bit tired, still I got up. Luckily, Gwen was up too and we sat and visited. It isn’t long before Don joined us and together the three of us did an early morning Bible study. Before we knew it, the girls started showing up, sleepy-eyed and anxious for our day to begin. Their normal routine included “God’s Special Time.” They refer to it as GST.

    It is their Bible study time at 6 p.m. I had 25 new names to remember. Not good. After breakfast, I made plans to make nametags for everyone. I told the girls that from now on, everyone who remembered to wear their nametags to GST would get a prize from me.

   After GST, the girls ate breakfast then they started doing chores. Depending on their ages, they were each assigned to either do dishes, laundry or sweeping. Each of the older girls was assigned to do their own laundry. The younger ones had their laundry done by some of the staff. Don and Gwen and Luke began the preparation of the walls for painting while Gwen took some of the girls and began the crafts.

   I on the other hand had Patti the staff nurse help me to start doing dental sealants or extractions. Then I had a place for Patti to indicate if they needed to see the local dentist for fillings. I had been witness to poor dental health before but never had I seen this amount of tartar buildup in such young children.

   Three of the girls ages 12, 14 and 15 had severe periodontal disease and the best I could do was to clean their teeth, give oral hygiene instructions with a new toothbrush and floss and dispense some antimicrobial mouthwash. I had never in my 30 years as a dental hygienist seen children this age with advanced periodontal disease.

   Based on my observations, I had to assume that they had rarely brushed their teeth and had known nothing of dental floss. Few if any had ever seen a dentist. I found out the local dentists didn’t use anesthetic. If the patient wanted it, it cost them more.

   Patti told me if I could leave some of my anesthetic, they had an agreement with a dentist who would do the dentistry for them for free if they provided the anesthetic. I assured her I would leave any of my leftover anesthetic for them at the end of our time there.

   Since all I had packed was my hand instruments, I did the best I could to remove the tartar. I hadn’t anticipated this much tartar to be on their teeth and as such, I had allotted myself only about 15 minutes each to do the cleanings. Another 15 minutes for doing dental sealants and if they needed extractions we could plan them another day.

   I wish I had my ultrasonic scaler; it would have been so much easier on my hands and would have made cleaning their teeth so much easier. The three girls with the advanced gum disease would probably lose their teeth before they turned 18. It was sad to witness and a sense of helplessness filled my heart. I had to focus on what I could do, not what I couldn’t.

   We were able to work fairly well doing the dentistry when the electricity was on but when they had their “brown-outs” (loss of electricity) we couldn’t endure working in the heat. Not only I, but the patients also, would get weak and feel faint.

   Without the use of the fans to blow the air around the patient, I also noted the small flies would begin to accumulate around the patient’s mouth. So during those times, we took our breaks, or went outside to play with the kids.

   Between the house and the team house we slept in was a basketball court. They used this area to play dodge ball, basketball and play other games. Since we brought with us 20 bottles of bubbles, now was the perfect time to bring them out. They loved blowing bubbles and making up songs. “Bubbles, bubbles everywhere…bubbles, bubbles in my hair. Bubbles, bubbles in my nose, bubbles, bubbles in my toes.” It began a contest to see who could add a line and make it rhyme. “Bubbles, bubbles in the air, bubble bubbles I don’t care!”

   We all enjoyed watching them have fun and devoting time to just being children. Given all they had been through, it was long overdue. Along with bringing blowing bubbles, we also brought material for them to make bracelets, necklaces, picture frames, tooth charts, and their own sock puppets.

   We took out the nail polish we brought and painted all their fingernails. We would later gift each of them with one bottle of polish each to keep which is a huge luxury they normally would not be able to afford.

   The lunch and dinner meals were pretty much the same each day. They ate lots of rice; it was included in every meal, even breakfast. I saw the largest rice cooker I have ever seen. It had to be two feet in diameter and had the capacity of cooking rice for 30 people. I laughed and laughed when I first saw it sitting on the counter in the kitchen.

   They liked to eat hot dogs and Spam. We were lucky to see fruit included in our meals, mostly papayas, bananas, watermelon and mangos. They ate a lot of stir-fry pork with soy sauce and some but not a lot of chicken. Being gluten intolerant presented some challenges, but since I had brought along my own dried fruit and protein bars I always had something to eat. I actually lost seven pounds while in the Phillippines. I am sure some was pure water weight.

   That first night, as luck would have it, we had our “brown-out” from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. This meant we had to endure the heat and no lights during the girls’ evening Bible study time and then during the time they would usually have to play music on the CD player, dance and have some free time.

   So, since we had no lights or fans inside, we decided we would just take the activities outside to the courtyard. Naomi, one of the staff (native of Scotland) brought the candles out. All the girls sat in a semi-circle as we presented a Bible study in the form of a puppet show.

   Luke, Gwen and I sat crouched behind a sheet; Kathy held our scripts with a flashlight. They all squealed and laughed as we did our best to present our show; attempting not to laugh ourselves. After our puppet show they wanted to dance for us. So while Benny played the guitar, the girls took turns in the middle of the circle and danced to the other girls’ songs.

   It was very spontaneous and delightful. Everyone from seven-year-old Genevieve all the way up to some of the staff (and including us) were eventually called into the circle to dance. It was a time of letting inhibitions go and relaxing with the new friends. The evening reluctantly ended about 10 p.m.

   We all went to bed happy, tired and ready to sleep despite the fact that we knew sleep would come slow without the help of our fans.

Monique Judkins cleans the teeth of a Nehemiah House resident.

The children at Nehemiah House dance after a Bible study.

Don Judkins (center), Kathy Gadowa (right, in chair), and some other staff and residents at Nehemiah House enjoyed watching the girls blow bubbles outside during one of the frequent brown-outs.