Archive of July 18, 2009

Church sponsors dental mission for sister parish in Haiti

Lincoln, Neb., Jul 18, 2009 (CNA) - Living on a diet of mostly sugar cane, with no money to spare for toothbrushes, the children of Kobano Mission in Haiti suffer serious dental problems. In response, the Faith In Action Team (FIAT) at one parish arranged a special mission trip last spring in which four dentists and four dental assistants, accompanied by FIAT co-founder Don Killeen, journeyed to Haiti to serve hundreds of patients.

Kobano Mission is a "sister parish" for St. Joseph Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The parish has held various drives to collect peanut butter, shoes, school supplies, etc. and various members of the parish have traveled to Haiti to help with the work.

Established by Louisiana native Father Glenn Meaux, S.O.L.T., the mission serves "the poorest of the poor." It’s situated in a rural area in the mountains about 20 miles from the centrally-located city of Hinche. There is no electricity, running water, paved roads or any sort of shops or stores.

Father Meaux relies heavily on the financial and practical support of U.S. parishes like St. Joseph Church to help. He provides food and clothing distribution, water stations that pipe clean water down from a mountain spring, a school, a housing program, solar-generated electricity and even a small economy that provides jobs and trade opportunities.

Getting medical and dental care to the community is always a challenge. Killeen visited the mission several times and worked with his son, pediatric dentist Dr. Martin Killeen to arrange this special dental mission.

It wasn’t difficult for Dr. Killeen to recruit volunteers. He started with his younger brother, Addison, who is currently studying dentistry and can work as a dental assistant. One of the professors of the University of Nebraska dental college, Dr. Jim Jenkins, also volunteered.

Two more dentists, Jeff Villafane and Shawn Whitney signed on, as did dental assistants Cody Christline, Aaron Larson and Danny Tylka.

None of them knew quite what to expect.

"We prepared for the worst," Dr. Killeen said.

Fortunately, they had been able to ship down a pair of dental chairs in advance. The chairs were donated by a dentist who was remodeling.

Various dental supply companies also donated supplies, such as fluoride treatments, Novocain, toothbrushes, and chemicals that could be used for "cold" sterilization of the instruments.

All of these went down to Haiti in a huge shipping container, paid for by banker Tom Johnson of Brainerd, Minn. Mr. Johnson has also adopted Kobano Mission as a special project, and has generously sponsored shipping numerous times over the years.

Dr. Killeen searched for dental instruments on eBay to pack into his suitcase. He was able to purchase enough equipment for the team at a reasonable cost.

When the dental team arrived, it was a quick set-up, and they were ready to go. A room with a tiled floor, formerly used as a chapel, but now a sewing room most of the time, held the two dental chairs and two wooden benches. The sewing machines were put to use as makeshift instrument tables, and each dental and dental assistant pair manned a station.

"Most of the people we treated had never seen a dentist," Dr. Killeen said, noting that it had been around 15 years since a dentist last visited the community.

They started with kids who were around 9-11 years of age. The state of the children’s teeth was sobering, and it’s all due to poverty.

"It’s just so severe," Dr. Killeen stressed. "It dawned on me when you see what people are eating down there. They’ll mix dirt into their food so they have more food to eat."

Haiti’s abundant sugar cane makes up a large part of the local diet. It wasn’t unusual for the dentists to encounter very painful teeth that were rotting right down to the gum line.

Since electricity in the mission is solar powered and not particularly reliable, the dental crew decided it would be a mistake to count on having enough power for drilling. It was more practical to focus on extracting infected teeth… as well as teeth so badly damaged by cavities, infection was imminent.

"At first, you would hesitate about taking out a permanent tooth, especially in front," Dr. Killeen acknowledged. "But they’d rather have an eyesore in the front than a facial infection or holes in their mouths."

The patients were grateful to just be out of pain from the severe cavities and infections.

"The kids were super tough. Didn’t complain a bit," Dr. Killeen related.

Each patient received a free toothbrush and some instruction about how to care for their teeth from now on. The dentists also taught the mission staff how to apply fluoride treatments, so that even without a dentist on hand, the mission can help improve dental health in the community.

Besides treating hundreds of school children, the dental team also assisted many adults. All told, they saw more than 400 patients and extracted somewhere around 820 teeth in the short week they were in Haiti.

The teams worked basically from sun up until sun down, appreciating the excellent organizing efforts of Father Meaux and his staff.

On the plane home, they were exhausted but invigorated by the whole experience.

"Everybody said, ‘Count me in for next year,’" Dr. Killeen said.

Printed with permission from the Southern Nebraska Register.


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Volunteers help refugees transition, find family support

Anchorage, Alaska, Jul 18, 2009 (CNA) - In Anchorage, Catholic Social Services is committed to living out the Gospel mandate, in which Jesus called his followers to welcome the stranger. This is a blessing for people like the Kafley family, who fled the terrors of ethnic cleansing in their homeland of Bhutan in the Eastern Himalayas.

"The government of Bhutan was trying to rid Bhutan of people of Nepalese origin," explained Patrick Pillai, who mentors the Kafleys through a CSS program. "People were fleeing the country, but Nepal did not want to accept them all because it would sanction the persecution."

As the official refugee resettlement agency for Alaska, CSS is commissioned to receive people who can no longer live in their own country due to political or religious persecution, war, famine, ethnic cleansing and a host of other woes. If Alaska has been chosen as their destination from among those sent by the United Nations to the U.S., CSS does the work of acclimating them to their new homeland. Fortunately there are many volunteers, including Patrick and Vani Pillai, the Kafleys’ mentors.

The Kafley family, and thousands of others, were put in United Nations-sponsored refugee camps in Nepal. Of their four children, all but the oldest son were born in the camp, where they awaited their fate.

After 19 years in the camp, cooking over a fire and living in a makeshift bamboo house, the Kafleys have been given the chance to make a new home in Alaska.

"The oldest son, Prakash, came to Alaska first," said Pillai. "To show how uncertain were their lives, the family packed him up with a metal can in case he would need it to draw drinking water in his new home, just like they had to do in the camp."

"Other than the plane, Prakash had never worn a seat belt. He’d never used a stove or a refrigerator," said Pillai. "I remember when I first showed him how to use the toaster, we both laughed when he jumped as the bread shot up."

When Pillai visited Prakash in his Mountain View apartment, he discovered the young man was afraid to step outside, and had no idea what street signs were. Pillai took him on a long ride around the municipality, map in hand.

Eventually, the rest of the family caught up with Prakash, and the Pillais took them on their first supermarket foray.

"They couldn’t believe there was so much food available," said Pillai. Food had been rationed in the camp, and there was very little meat. The Kafleys were thrilled with the varieties of vegetables.

The Pillais helped them with banking, taught them how to keep their food receipts and budget. They helped them get a debit card and guided them in how to pay their rent.

Karen Ferguson, state refugee coordinator and the program director of CSS’ refugee assistance program, said a mentor is "like an ambassador to life in America and Alaska."

Around six to 12 mentor families may be active at any one time. Last year, CSS welcomed 85 refugees directly from their countries of origin. They came from the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. This year refugees have included those from Bhutan and Cuba.

As important as mentoring is, Patrick Pillai said it’s also important to know "when to step back to foster independence."

The Kafleys are currently settled into an apartment on Old Seward Highway and preparing for employment. A large percentage of new arrivals find employment within the first year. Pillai said many employers "marvel at the work ethic" of the resettled refugees.

Patrick Pillai felt compelled to volunteer because, although he was never a refugee, he is an immigrant who came to the U.S. from South Africa. Today, he works in administration and his wife is a high school teacher. Their twin daughters are seniors in high school.

"I felt it was time to pay back," said Pillai. And he thought mentoring was a way to help his teenage daughters see the world’s needs up close.

"CSS is a great organization to work with. When you do something like this, it intensifies what a great country this is. If countries like Australia, the U.S. and others didn’t take these people in, they’d be in camps forever."

Printed with permission from


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Pelosi accused of muzzling opposition to taxpayer-funded D.C. abortions

Washington D.C., Jul 18, 2009 (CNA) - Despite bipartisan efforts from pro-life congressmen, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed legislation allowing taxpayer-funded abortion in the District of Columbia. One pro-lifer charged that opponents had been “muzzled” by Nancy Pelosi.

The Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act passed by a vote of 219 to 208. It contained provisions which allowed local D.C. taxpayer money to be used on abortions and expanded the exemptions to fund abortions “where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury or physical illness.”

The House refused to consider a bipartisan amendment by Reps. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) and Lincoln Davis (D-TN). By a vote of 216-213, the House blocked the Tiahrt/Davis Amendment and several other amendments from receiving an up-or-down vote on the House floor.

Earlier in 2009, 180 members of Congress signed a letter to the House Democratic Leadership asking for an up-or-down vote on any elimination of pro-life riders banning taxpayer funding for abortion.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said pro-life leaders in the House used “every tool at their disposal” to defend the unborn.

She charged that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had “muzzled” both Republicans and Democrats who supported the pro-life measures.

“President Obama's decision to force American taxpayers to foot the bill for abortions in the District of Columbia will cause the deaths of at least 1,000 more unborn children each year,” Dannenfelser remarked.

“President Obama and Speaker Pelosi are on a collision course with broad public opposition to taxpayer-funding for abortion.”

She thanked Republican and Democratic pro-life leaders for “their strong, compelling fight to honor the women of the District of Columbia with life-affirming solutions that help both mother and child.”

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Vietnamese Catholics pay high fines for violating government's two-child policy

Hanoi, Vietnam, Jul 18, 2009 (CNA) - Catholic villagers in Vietnam say they are trying to follow Church teaching on contraception in the face of  high fines levied against them under the country’s two-child policy. They pay the fines as a way of showing their fidelity to Catholic teaching.

Since a 1994 nationwide “family planning” program, Vietnamese have been required to have no more than two children per family. Those with two children are told to use artificial contraceptives or undergo vasectomies free of charge.

Families with more than two children must pay rice to the government as a fine, UCA News reports.

While many Catholics say they have done their best to remain faithful to Catholic teaching, some have had to resort to contraceptives because they could not afford the significant fines.

Villagers in Thua Thien-Hue province spoke to UCA News about the government's punishment.

Catherine Pham Thi Thanh, 44, said that since 1996 she has been fined a total of 3,800 kilograms of rice for having six children, who now range from two to 15 years of age. Her family makes an annual profit of only 700 kilograms of rice by producing rice alcohol and raising pigs.

She told UCA News she was fined 300 kilograms for her third child, 600 for her fourth, 900 for her fifth and 2,000 for the sixth.

In 2007, she decided to use an intrauterine contraceptive device to save her family from a 3,800 kilogram fine in the event she had a seventh child. In 2005, village authorities had confiscated the possessions of a family who could not afford to pay such fines.

Anna Pham Thi The, 50, has seven daughters ages two through 29. She also produces rice alcohol and raises pigs. She said she is willing to be fined for having more children because her husband wants a son.

Father Joseph Nguyen Van Chanh, parish priest in Huong Toan village, said 90 percent of his 1,200 parishioners have paid their fines as a way to be faithful to Church teaching. He told UCA News that Catholics are taught family planning methods during marriage preparation courses.

The two-family policy was in the news recently throughout the country when the Vietnamese prime minister chided an executive director of Vietnam Airlines for having a third child.

Vietnam’s population is close to 86 million and increases by 1.12 million annually.

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