Want Less, Give More
Local Humanitarians Make a Global Difference
Inside the home of Dr. Mark and Shawn Pitts is a stack of letters tied together with a ribbon. Some are written in Thai while others have English phrases peppered throughout wishing the Frederick-based oral surgeon and dental hygienist good luck, good life and good health.
Each note serves as a thank-you from a student at the Baan Chang Nai School in the Mae Taeng village in Thailand where the couple has provided services as part of a free annual dental clinic. “Every now and then, I’ll look through all of [the letters] just because they are so cute,” Mark Pitts says. Shawn Pitts is touched by the thoughtful gesture. “They said, ‘We appreciate so much that you could go anywhere in the world but you came here and you helped us.’”
The couple is just one of many local residents who travel to foreign countries to donate their time to people and places in need. “It’s just so rewarding to give back to someone,” Mark Pitts says. “When you go to these places and you see how little these people have—I mean, they have nothing—any little bit we can give them to improve their lives, the feeling that you get from that is just amazing.” The couple has traveled extensively over the years, but Shawn Pitts adds, “I think we are getting to that point in our lives where vacations are nice but there is something that is just really rewarding about combining the two things. We are just getting to that point in our life where personally I want less. I want to acquire less personally and give more.”
BRUSH WITH KINDNESS
While visiting the Sacred Valley region of Peru several years ago, the Pitts got the opportunity to go to a remote school in the mountains. Many of the children had poor oral hygiene because of a diet of mainly potatoes and a routine that never consists of brushing. “They have no dentist available to them,” Mark Pitts says. The visit sparked their interest in humanitarian trips. “These children will run at you and they hug you and they hold your hand and want to show you everything and they are so giving,” says Shawn Pitts. “It just seems like you can’t hardly leave there thinking that you shouldn’t want to give something back to them.” The couple is working to start a dental clinic in the region. “Our main mission is to get in that school next fall and take a case full of toothbrushes, toothpaste and educational materials and just start there and hopefully the following year we will be able to have more volunteers who will go with us,” says Shawn Pitts.
After deciding to do humanitarian work abroad, the couple began talking with Rebeccah Bartlett who is involved with the local nonprofit Yogamour, which provides free health care clinics in Thailand. The couple offered to do a weeklong dental clinic for students including cleanings, extractions, sealants and guidance on proper brushing methods.
Sugar is a considerable part of the students’ diet. The school does have the children brush their teeth after lunch, yet “nobody has ever taught them how to brush their teeth,” Mark Pitts says. “Their front teeth are clean and all their back teeth are decayed and they’re rotten.” The village has no dentists and most people can’t afford to rent a taxi to go to a city for medical treatment.
In June, the couple returned for their second dental clinic. Shawn Pitts remembers three girls staying after school to ensure they got their teeth examined. “They really understood that we were trying to do something really important to help them and they wanted to take advantage of it,” she says. “We just try to do as much as we can for them while we are there.”
The couple plans to go back to Thailand every year from now on to do dental clinics. They are also working with a nonprofit being established as well as Rotary clubs to set up a community center where locals may seek medical care and education. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but we are hoping to get that community center open next year,” he says. Humanitarian trips “help you realize the world is a bigger place and there is a need out there and not only should we be involved in trying to provide services, but we should get other people involved and we should try to make it even more of a program and something more sustainable and these people can improve their lives over a period of time.”
‘CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK AGAIN’
Frederick resident Karen Smith had always wanted to partake in a humanitarian mission. “I hate to sound corny, but when God tells you to do something, you do it,” she says. Several of her fellow parishioners at Evangelical Lutheran Church had discussed their trips “and I thought, ‘You know next time they do this, I’m going to go,’” she says. “I like to travel, but I also like to come out of my box every now and then and do something different and this was completely different.”
Smith heard about On Eagle’s Wings, a group of volunteers that teach Vacation Bible School classes in remote areas of northern Canada. “It kept nagging in the back of my mind,” she says. “Do this. Do this. Do this. Finally I just said, ‘OK. God, if you want me to do this, then I need your help.’ I’m telling you, things just fell in place from that point on.” Smith spent two years fundraising for the trip which included speaking to her congregation and raffling off two quilts she made. After paying off all her expenses for the 2010 trip, Smith was additionally able to send a $1,000 check to the ministry group from the congregation.
Smith spent a week in Alberta teaching Native American children Bible classes. At the end of her visit, she recalls, the kids kept asking if she would come back again. The experience made her want to do more mission trips.
In June 2013, she and nine others from her church left for a 10-day trip to Antigua, Guatemala, as part of The God’s Child project that aims to aid impoverished areas of the country. Split into two groups of five, the parishioners each built a house for a family in need over the course of three days. There was no electricity, so everything had to be done by hand, including mixing the cement and cutting the wood. “The main thing was [the new home] got the families off of the dirt ground … and it kept them dry and warm during the rain and wintertime down there,” she says.
The group also spent a day distributing 12 suitcases full of donated clothes collected from the Evangelical Lutheran congregation. The team also helped out at a nutrition center, feeding malnourished children. The whole trip was “a lot of work, but it was fun,” Smith says. “Very fulfilling. … You know, truthfully, I think everyone should do something like this whether it’s here in the United States … or outside this country.”
The congregation plans another trip next summer to the same area and hopes to bring 25 members along in order to build more houses. Smith plans to be one of the participants. “I can’t wait to go back again,” she says.
OBLIGATION TO HELP
Dr. Mark Seymour, Frederick Memorial Hospital’s medical director for anesthesiology, has taken between 20 to 25 humanitarian trips during his medical career. “I feel as a human being that if I have the means, the physical ability and the energy, that it is my obligation to help those in need,” he says.
Before becoming a doctor, Seymour learned to speak Spanish while serving as a missionary in Chile. As a medical student, he volunteered for his first trip to aid in a children’s hospital in Santiago, Chile. “I knew the country,” he says. “I knew the culture. … As soon as I was able to do clinical work, that’s when I started going down.” Over the years, he would branch out to do work in other Latin American countries, such as Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Honduras and Guatemala. He treated patients with hernias, as well as children with cleft lips and palates, and clubfoot.
His last trip was to Haiti in 2010 after a devastating earthquake struck. Arriving five days after the 7.0-magnitude quake, he was a part of two operating teams. Out of all the countries he has volunteered to aide, Haiti had the most poverty and malnutrition among its people.
Today, Seymour serves on the board of directors for A Dollar A Tree For Haiti. With more than 90 percent of the country deforested, the nonprofit aims to plant trees to help aid in keeping top soil which will help with agriculture. Through all of his humanitarian work, Seymour enjoys being able to help those in need, seeing the satisfaction on their faces and “knowing you made a difference in that person’s life and their family’s life.”
Several years ago, Dr. Deborah Morrone was looking to start doing “volunteer vacations.” “I’d had some friends who’d done them and had a great time and I happened to come across one that involved chiropractors,” she says. ChiroMission is a nonprofit group dedicated to bringing chiropractic care to those in need in other countries. The group “just seemed like the perfect fit,” she says.
Since completing her first trip in 2009, Morrone has gone on nearly a dozen ChiroMission trips to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Vincent and The Grenadines. She also serves on the group’s board of directors. “It’s a cause near and dear to my heart,” she says. “I love doing it. It’s kind of a labor of love. I’ve gotten so much out of it and seeing the things that we can do there. I’m happy to help other people have that experience, as well.”
Morrone has treated a wide variety of complaints on her trips including arthritis, mobility problems and issues resulting from old injuries. “We go to areas where there is very little health care at all,” she says. “We’ve literally seen miracles where people can’t walk. They can’t stand. We care for them. We adjust them. They improve their mobility. They are able to go back and help take care of their families and work and support their families again. We’ve seen some pretty awesome miracles that way.” The reactions are heartwarming for Morrone. “It’s a lot of fun when you are adjusting somebody and then 10 minutes later they are bringing their entire family back to get adjusted, as well,” she says.
Morrone’s most recent trip was back to the Dominican Republic in September for a week. “It’s definitely a working vacation,” she says. “You go down there and it just changes your mindset. It kind of refreshes why I’m doing what I am doing. I get busy. I get tied up in my business. I love what I do but running a business can have its challenges. Sometimes I get tired. Sometimes I get frustrated but I get down there and it’s like, ‘OK. I have the means and the opportunity to be able to do this and go down there and help people who have very little but strangely they seem happier than a lot of people here.’ It’s just a kind of way to reboot my brain, refresh my soul and get myself reorganized and re-motivated.”