Monique Arnold of Silverdale, Wash., has regularly taken her seat as a patient at Clear Creek Dentistry for the past 7 years. But for the last couple of months, her dental team has been seated under her direction after hours.
This master linguist, with degrees in political science and French, has been holding a language boot camp in the basement conference room of the dentists’ office for Dr. Lyle Beck, his daughter Madeline, and the four other members of the practice (Alyssa, Casey, Jade and Natasha) who will soon be traveling to Haiti to provide humanitarian dental work. “This is where the magic happened and the lightbulbs went on,” she said enthusiastically. “We kept it basic, focusing on context-based teaching and learning a little bit well, rather than a whole lot confused. It’s exciting to see how much French they absorbed and the difference in their ability to communicate after just eight classes.”
Here’s a clip from one of the language sessions.
Clear Creek Dentistry has partnered with Children of the Nations to provide much-needed treatment to 88 children in the shattered village of Bellevue – 15 miles west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. This area was the epicenter of Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January 2010. Many families lost their homes, suffered injuries during the catastrophe, and continue to severely struggle.
“Haiti is a country that is 54% illiterate. Almost no one there speaks English,” said Arnold, who has traveled to Bellevue twice on mission trips with COTN and served as a translator for American doctors. The primary language there is French, with Creole as the secondary. “You want to be able to reach them. It’s nice to be able to have a little bit of a relationship with the people you’re helping.”
Arnold paints a strong picture of lifting an entire nation when service is concentrated through an organization like COTN. “There is opportunity to help so much not only now, but for the duration of these children’s lives,” she said.
The youth, ages 3-18, Clear Creek will be serving are part of a sponsorship program in which they are enabled to attend school – a rarity in Haiti where education isn’t free and almost no one has the money to pay for it – and supported all the way through college. Additionally, these children are provided with two healthy meals a day. “It is huge!” she said.
Sponsored children receive necessary dental and medical care, as well as public-health education. “They have never been taught to brush their teeth or wash their hands, it’s just not part of their culture,” Arnold explained. “So this is an area where disease runs rampant and knowledge is power for both short-term survival and long-term success.”
In an effort to leave some of these messages, in a fun and memorable way, Arnold wrote and taught the Clear Creek team little jingles to the tune of “Frère Jacques.” Translated they simply mean: Brush your teeth, brush your teeth, each night, each night, to keep your teeth, to keep your teeth, to be able to eat easily, to be able to eat easily. Wash your hands, wash your hands, with soap, with soap, after the bathroom, after the bathroom, and before eating, and before eating. “It’s something that will stay with them,” she said. “When you’re talking to kids, most of whom have parasites or struggle with constant and, in some cases, preventable pain, they listen and remember.”
Enjoy this video of Dr. Beck and his daughter, Madeline, practicing one of the songs.
With different components of the trip in mind, Arnold tailor-made each class. “I started by teaching the Clear Creek team typical greetings such as: Hello! How are you? My name is… How old are you? I’m happy to be here. I’m happy you’re here! which become extremely helpful in breaking the ice,” she said. “They then learned practical inquiries and how to give basic instructions in French that they might need during treatment. Things like: Where does it hurt? Can you feel this? Open your mouth. Bite down. Brush your teeth. Don’t chew on sugar cane. And, of course, reassuring phrases such as: I won’t hurt you. It’s going to be OK. You’re doing well.”
Reflecting on her own service in Bellevue, Arnold says it’s impossible to go there and return unchanged. “The idea of ‘poor’ takes on a whole new meaning. Almost everyone there lives in tarps – it’s camping – they have no homes. There are no food banks, no government assistance programs, no public schools. There’s no clean drinking water, no sewer systems, no electricity, no way for these wonderfully willing people to lift themselves and change their own lives without some sort of intervention,” she said. “It’s a completely different experience than serving here. You realize there are people, just outside of America, with so many greater needs than we have in this country, so your help is received on a much deeper level.”
Arnold says the children and, typically, their mothers will walk 30-40 minutes each way to receive help. “You never hear them complain. They are so grateful,” she said. “You are just mobbed with hugs and smiles all day, every day, with children wanting to hold your hands and show you how much you mean to them. It is a fantastic feeling!”
Clear Creek Dentistry’s ongoing commitment to both the community here and the global community makes Arnold all the more committed as patient. “I think it’s so awesome what they’re providing, not just in Haiti, but previously in Africa and the Dominican Republic,” she said. “When a group of professionals like this share their skills in places without options, it makes me want to give them my business.”
Arnold’s first trip to Haiti was in 2012, her second just last fall (Oct. 2014). “I really have a heart for helping beyond my own boundaries,” she said describing her global travels, which began as a toddler. “The seeds of another beautiful language and a different culture were planted in me when my family moved to Tahiti when I was only 3-years-old. My father was a marine biologist, so his work took us there, and my parents always encouraged us to continue speaking a little French at home.”
Since then, she has lived three times in France and visited 10 other countries. Arnold has been teaching French professionally for more than 15 years at the University of Hawaii, Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., and now through classes at Emerald Heights Elementary in Silverdale, Wash. and for private groups – like Clear Creek – preparing to travel for business, mission trips and vacations.
“We live in a global economy, where the world has become so interconnected and easy to access,” Arnold said. “It’s really just polite to know a few words or sentences – casual conversation – if you’re going to travel. It makes you more compassionate for the English as a Second Language learners who live here, plus it’s good for your brain.”
Individuals or groups interested in language classes with Arnold may contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.