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Xavier Magazine | December 17, 2018

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Dental Dangers

Dentist Bill Holohan’s volunteer work is more exotic than most assignments. But it’s also more dangerous. The 1981 marketing communications graduate is part of El Nino Rey, a Northbrook, Ill.-based group that provides cleanings, fillings and extractions to more than 1,000 people a year in the mountainous southern Mexico state of Guerrero. The all-volunteer dentistry group came together after Holohan met Fr. Matt Foley, who had spent six years ministering in the region. Foley told him of the absence of dental care, and soon the two men recruited several other dentists from Holohan’s parish to join the effort.

El Nino Rey made its first trip in 2001 and now sends groups for one week each in January and February. The volunteers work in Quechultenango, and residents of the surrounding mountains make their way down to the valley town to receive care. “People sometimes walk all day to reach us,” Holohan says. El Nino Rey also gives scholarships for children to continue their education past primary school, and Foley typically holds nightly Masses—a treat for people who rarely see a priest.

Volunteers spend their nights on air mattresses in a church or school, but they don’t always sleep, Holohan says wryly. Noisy dogs, donkeys and roosters freely wander the hub of this agricultural region.

“People say it doesn’t seem like much of a vacation, but we have fun working together as a group,” Holohan says. “But it’s so far out of our natural element that you feel more refreshed than if you’d gone to the beach for
a week.”

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