Written By: Jiteng Lai, Jixing Liu
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Maggie Morgan
Summer temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona can climb to over 100 degrees, and Tzu Chi Phoenix Service Center volunteers matched the heat with passion. Supported by the Tzu Chi USA Headquarters’ medical team, volunteers held a free dental clinic for the community. The inaugural event, held on June 26, 2022, was created with low-income families in mind; the mission was to deliver much-needed quality care to those who had gone without it. It was a monumental step for the Tzu Chi Phoenix Service Center, which had been working towards this clinic for years.
It Takes A Village
Tzu Chi Phoenix Service Center, founded 26 years ago, has held many free clinics over the past two decades. Though there was a definite need demonstrated for dental treatment, a lack of equipment prevented the volunteer doctors from offering critical services. Dentists were only able to provide oral and dental health consultations and advice; the community needed more but the resources simply weren’t there.
The day before the clinic, seven volunteers from Tzu Chi USA Headquarters arrived at the Phoenix clubhouse. It was the hottest time of the day, but volunteers worked through the scorching heat to get things ready. Mingyuan Lv, the volunteer who supervises the clinic at Headquarters, and Jingdian Chen, the volunteer who manages medical equipment transportation and assembly, set up everything in about two hours with the cooperation of local volunteers. The sun was beating down and the excitement was palpable; things were coming together for the long-awaited service event.
After a short break, a training session was held for local medical volunteers to prepare them for the next day; everyone needed to fully understand their respective responsibilities so they could work in harmony during the clinic.
On the day of the event, volunteers arrived at the site early in the morning to try and beat the heat. Residents registering for the clinic came around 7 a.m., and the identity verification and registration process began immediately.
Working Under the Phoenix Sun
Express COVID-19 screenings were performed before any resident could move forward in the clinic. To ensure the safety of the treatment site, volunteers set the testing station up outside; people were required to get a negative result before proceeding into the indoor clinic for basic physical checks before seeing the doctor.
By 8 a.m., the outdoor temperature had already reached 86 degrees, and the humidity was thicker than usual. The volunteers doing COVID-19 testing had to work in the blistering heat for hours, drenched in sweat but persevering nonetheless. People who came for treatment were directed to wait outside for their results, so they, too, were hit with the rising temperature.
The clinic followed the Tzu Chi USA Headquarters Medical Development Office’s protocols. Professor Kaiqiao Zhang was responsible for the initial examination of each patient and determined the next best steps based on the evaluation. If the patient needed an X-ray, they were sent to Huang Yizun, a volunteer who has been working as an assistant in a dental office. After X-rays, Kaiqiao Zhang brought the patients for dental scaling, filling, or extraction after assessing their images. The streamlined process allowed each volunteer and the doctor to focus on a particular part of the treatment, saving time and increasing the number of patients seen.
The clinic’s model embodied Tzu Chi’s humanistic spirit: a warm atmosphere that not only treats the body but also the soul. The patients felt at ease when being treated by the doctors amidst the warm interaction between people.
Collaboration and Compassion
From start to finish, Tzu Chi Phoenix Service Center’s first free dental clinic exemplified the tireless efforts of the volunteers. It was extremely gratifying for the team to see how profoundly the clinic touched people in the community, and many were inspired to join the endeavor.
Volunteers and professionals alike knew how important this clinic would be for residents who didn’t have access to care. Everyone joined forces to create a successful event that put the community first. Kaiqiao Zhang and his wife, Zhongrui Liu, are both dentists and they teach at a dental school in Phoenix. They invited three students to come volunteer at the clinic. Dr. Junbiao Jiang and Dr. Wenxiu Wang, who has participated in many Tzu Chi free clinics, were excited to be able to provide patients with substantive care that was no longer limited.
After his retirement, Dr. Junbiao Jiang served as the convener of the Phoenix dental team, and his wife Jingfang Chen served as the volunteer convener of the Phoenix area charity affairs. It is incredibly moving to see couples spend their time giving back together, uplifting their neighbors through love and dedication.
The dental duos weren’t the only people who brought their family members to volunteer with them. The deputy head of the Phoenix Service Center, volunteer Daiyue Zhou, asked her two nieces to help: volunteer Weixin Zhou, who served as the dental scaler, and volunteer Chiyi Gan, who served as the Spanish translator. GE physician Dr. Pan and his wife brought their son, Jiakai Pan, who will be attending medical school this fall. Jiakai was able to get hands-on experience as he took the temperature and blood pressure of patients.
One volunteer, Balaji, has been interacting with volunteers since he participated April’s walkathon. Balaji assisted the team with the architecture of the e-health files. The three students who came with Kaiqiao Zhang signed up to join Tzu Chi’s volunteer team immediately after the clinic, saying that they would like to also be a part of other causes outside of medical care.
Carrie saw an online call for volunteers and immediately signed up as a volunteer at the equipment sterilization station. Her expertise in human resources was just what the Service Center needed. Carrie instructed volunteers on how to sterilize, disinfect, and pack the equipment. She said, “I saw the call for volunteer clinic workers at LINE and signed up.”
It was also dentist Dr. Zhongrui Liu’s first time volunteering. She led dental scaling and extraction efforts, playing a major role on the team. “The equipment and accessories here are comprehensive and come in handy when needed. I believe the new equipment in the Service Center will be more effective when it is set up,” said Dr. Liu.
Tzu Chi’s Medical Services Keep Growing
“It’s the first Tzu Chi free dental clinic in Phoenix. The weather was so hot that everyone was sweating, but everyone is still fully engaged”, said Jixing Liu, head of the Phoenix Service Center. “Volunteers arrived early in the morning to prepare for the clinic, and many patients also arrived early to line up at the site. Everything was well coordinated, which is quite touching.”
“We brought with us most of the dental equipment and accessories … we hope to help them start the free dental clinic, so they can hold it regularly in the future.” Sylvia Yang, who oversees the medical equipment management at Tzu Chi USA Headquarters, brought patient beds, professional dental equipment, and other necessary accessories.
During the clinic, patients were visibly relieved after being treated. They expressed their appreciation and gratitude for the service, and the reviews rolled in:
Someone’s smile can truly say so much about them, and the patients were finally able to wear theirs proudly and without pain. Their overwhelming joy trickled into the volunteers; even when they were exhausted, the patients’ happiness energized them.
Many of the patients were residents who participate in Tzu Chi’s food distributions. Several of these families live in hardship and face financial struggles; going to the dentist is often a luxury, and certainly an expense they cannot always afford. Low-income residents are often forced to live with painful dental issues, but Tzu Chi’s clinic offered an opportunity to alleviate their nagging discomfort.
The service is one many of us wouldn’t ever consider a necessity, and dental health is an aspect of our lives we take for granted. The response to the clinic proved it isn’t only essential, but it can be life-changing. Volunteers were able to address years-long complications in just one day, leaving patients with a smile they had long forgotten.
Caring Can Be Contagious
Jixing Liu, head of Tzu Chi Phoenix Service Center, has been working to promote local free dental clinics since he first took office. His hope is to improve the oral health of disadvantaged families as well as long-term care recipients. Since 2021, Tzu Chi volunteers in Phoenix have held fundraising events to support the clinic, putting on tea parties, walkathons, and funfairs to encourage donations. The team used the proceeds to purchase three sets of mobile dental equipment, finally realizing their vision of conducting local clinics for those in need.
After the equipment was secured, the team began to recruit and train medical volunteers. With support from Tzu Chi USA Headquarters, local volunteers dove into remote training on e-health files. For further comprehensive support, volunteers from the Headquarters came to the clinic site to help familiarize Phoenix team members with the system.
To strengthen the team’s knowledge, Jixing Liu brought the clinic volunteers to Fresno, California and Las Vegas, Nevada so they better immerse themselves in the process. Phoenix volunteers were beyond ecstatic to bring the service to their community, and they started preparing over a month ahead of the event.
According to Dr. Shirley Chen, Director of the Medical Development Office at Tzu Chi USA Headquarters, “This clinic will not only provide direct medical assistance to low-income patients but also recruit new volunteers. In fact, we have seen that the community’s participation in Tzu Chi activities is already underway.”
Tzu Chi’s free dental clinic in Phoenix is a manifestation of hard work and an altruistic vision. Despite every obstacle, and even a global pandemic, the team collaborated to deliver a long sought after service to their fellow residents. Dental care is not always accessible, and it is almost always expensive. Underserved communities shouldn’t be forced to live in pain simply so they can use their resources to feed their families. Tzu Chi’s teams are adept in understanding the plights of the areas they serve, and continue showing up in the ways their neighbors need them most. Our beneficiaries’ smiles meant a little more this time around, and the ear-to-ear grins were nothing short of contagious.