In 2010, UC Davis pre-med student Joseph Lapid and some friends began discussing how they could use what they learned to make a significant impact — not only in their community, but in the world.
“We just wanted to find a place that needed what we had to offer and … where we could also gain experience in teaching,” Lapid said.
After a year of planning and researching what could be done, Lapid ended up traveling more than 4,000 miles away to teach dental hygiene and first aid at schools in Peru’s impoverished communities.
Lapid, now 20, has just finished his second visit to Peru and plans to return next summer to donate more toothbrushes and first-aid kits, and give talks on the importance of dental hygiene as a continued activity. His long-term goal is to open a mobile clinic in impoverished communities around the world.
“We initially wanted to donate the dental supplies and first-aid kits because residents of these communities have to walk at least three hours in order to get to the nearest store,” Lapid said. “They were very grateful for our donations and we were grateful to have the opportunity not only to help them but to learn what else we could do.”
Lapid went on the most recent trip with his high school friend, Eduardo Rodriguez, a student at Sacramento State University. Together, they taught dental hygiene and first-aid awareness.
“Joseph invited me last year but I wasn’t able to go,” Rodriguez said. “It was such a great experience.”
Rodriguez, 21, is already planning to go on the next trip in 2013, but he wants to expand the project to include installation of solar panels at schools in Peru.
“I’m very big on re-usable energy and these schools could really benefit from it,” Rodriguez said.
Installing solar panels will cost the schools nothing and save them money on electricity.
Lapid and his friends were pre-med, pre-dental or studying sports sciences, nursing or engineering when they began brainstorming two years ago. Out of the five members in the group, only two people — including Lapid — ended up going to Peru.
But there was still much support from the group in making the project possible. The self-funded endeavor has continued to find support from friends, friends of friends, family and a particularly momentous contribution from Kiya Survivors, a nonprofit organization that Lapid found online. The group provides educational centers for special-needs and at-risk children living in poverty-stricken areas of Peru.
Kiya Survivors thought Lapid’s project would go hand-in-hand with its outreach work so the group provided a social worker and suggested three schools — Pachor, Pomatales and Villa Marcelo — near the rural community of Urubamba (north of Cusco) that might benefit from Lapid’s efforts.
“Our Outreach Project strives to improve the overall standard of living of families through two main areas: infrastructure improvements to the home (light or water installation, bathrooms, individual beds, improved kitchens), and social services (child support, job placement, hygiene advice),” said Aisha Chowdhury, coordinator for Kiya Survivors. “Now in the future, Kiya Survivors with our in-house social worker, can return to these communities to ensure the continuation of Joseph’s project and provide ongoing support for these children.”
Before finding Kiya Survivors, one of Lapid’s main concerns was finding dental supplies and first-aid kits to donate to those schools.
“A big challenge for me was not using the funds that we saved up for traveling to Peru,” Lapid said. “I knew some dentists that I could call and ask for dental supplies, so I went to a couple offices, collecting about five to 10 toothbrushes from each place.”
Lapid’s project was attempting to do things that only nonprofit organizations like Kiya Survivors could accomplish. Although he gained momentum from friends collecting dental supplies, it was unsustainable.
Luckily, Lapid soon received vital support from a family friend named Eva Bernardes, who runs a nonprofit organization with her husband called Global Success Center, which offers various services to people who are homeless. GSC gave Lapid an employer identification number, which is something that all nonprofit organizations must have for tax purposes.
Once he was officially affiliated with a nonprofit organization, Lapid could receive larger amounts of dental supplies.
When Lapid went looking for first-aid kits, the generosity he received continued to flourish. He was introduced to Dr. Jen Ezbon by a member of GSC.
Ezbon, a public health professor at Touro University, donated three boxes of first-aid kits. Lapid collected enough supplies to use for both trips.
“Dr. Ezbon was surprised by the project I was taking on at 19 years old,” Lapid said. “But he donated enough first-aid kits for future projects.”
Now, Lapid and Rodriquez are getting set for next summer by organizing fundraisers and setting up a Facebook page for their project.
“A lot of people told me I couldn’t do it,” Lapid said. “But now, it’s so great that this project is becoming possible because of the people that told me I could.”