You asked me to write a few lines telling my experience as a volunteer, and here I am!
I don’t talk about it often but when people ask me about what I do, I feel so much curiosity and I often get help and support in completely unexpected ways… It’s really true that solidarity is contagious!
I am almost 46 year old and I approached dentistry volunteering at a mature age, when I was 39 years old, when I already had a stable and very challenging professional position. I have been an orthodontist for almost 21 years and I’d never really considered the option that there might be children who were not able to afford treatment: I’ve always worked with children, teenagers and adults belonging to Rome’s upper-class whose main problem would only be whether to get traditional or transparent braces, nothing else.
At a certain point however, I went through a difficult time in my life and everything that was certain for me started to fall apart and fade away like dust: I felt like there was something important missing in my life. Some people might laugh about it, but I felt like there was something calling me, something that would complete me as a woman and as a professional. Analysing my life, I realised that I received a lot and given back too little, or at least not as much as I could have.
I was born in Italy in an historical period in which I had the chance to study, I went to university and got a degree in what I love the most allowing me to work with passion, I had two very healthy and amazing kids… But what was I doing for others? This question kept on hunting me for months until I had the opportunity to know, through a colleague, the “Vicenziano” Dentistry Center in Rome, a religious structure in which people who can not afford dental care are treated without charge. They needed somebody to take care of the orthodontic aspects and I offer myself as a volunteer!
Ever since the very beginning I realised it wasn’t going to be a usual work experience. In reality I’ve always done what I used to do in the other workplaces, setting up braces, but the enthusiasm in the eyes of those children and their parents’ gratefulness is something that can not be put into words. They gave me a lot mote than what I was able to give them: this is what every single volunteer kept repeating me and that I stood by from the beginning.
Throughout the past seven years I cured hundreds of patients, each of them with their own story: there is the orphan kid accompanied by a nun, foreign children filled with joy and with several siblings, the little kid from Rome whose parents lost their job, the little refugees’ daughter who had to fled her country and is not so proud of her brand new smile…because a nice smile can not be a luxury!
What can I add…Like you said, dear Patrizia, miracles do exist: when everything seems to go wrong, the company supplying dentistry appliances sends us free material, or we get a consistent donation. Miracles exist, and I’ve got the confirmation now from a young colleague who told me we are allowed to re-open the waiting list that had been stopped for months because of the high amount of request…
I’m sorry if I dwelled too much, but I hope I could transmit even a little bit of all the enthusiasm I gained from this experience. I send you a hug and I hope I will get to meet you in person soon. Elisa