By Patricia Brintle
School was in session as my friend Chantal Westby and I approached the classroom. We were mindful not to disturb the children and tried to catch the attention of the teacher. Although all the children were very aware of our presence, the teacher however, tried very hard to ignore us. We insisted and he reluctantly came to the door. We apologized for disturbing the class and asked if it would be OK to distribute gifts to the children. We explained that we did not mind waiting for the end of school but did not want to miss them at quitting time. He called the school master over who told us to return at the 11:30 a.m. lunch recess.
We were punctual yet the children were already on the school veranda eagerly waiting to see what we had brought. I asked how many of them had toothpaste and a toothbrush at home and very few raised their hands. When asked how they cleaned their teeth they chuckled and one child in the back said they washed with water and used their fingers; others said they sometimes used the cob after eating an ear of corn.
We told them a dentist in New York called Doctor Paul Penzi had sent a gift of toothpaste and brushes and we proceeded to distribute the loot. They were overjoyed and so very grateful; we even had to hold them back as not to get trampled. I asked them if they had any good word for the doctor and as if rehearsed in one voice they yelled “mesi docte Penzi.” (Thank you doctor Penzi.) We snapped a few pictures and as I watched the children walk to the plaza I realized how very much we take for granted.
A group of girls ran back to us and said: “di docte penzi nap laprye pou li” (tell Dr. Penzi that we will pray him) to which I said that the message will be gladly delivered.
Photos courtesy of George Westby