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Monday, May 16, 2011

Kindness in Action in Colombia

When Kindness in Action invited me to their Annual General Meeting I was thrilled to meet and come to know a great bunch of wonderful Albertans.  Kindness in Action Service Society of Alberta is a group of concerned individuals, motivated by a belief in the dignity of all people and their right to basic human needs.  They are non-partisan and entirely volunteer based group whose primary focus is oral health.

"Researchers are discovering that out-of-control inflammation [gum disease] may prove to be the engine that drives an ever-growing list of greatly feared, chronic illnesses from clogged arteries and heart attacks to arthritis and cancer" -- and even low birth weight babies!  The health-related quality of life approach has provided greater opportunity for investigation of the interrelations among oral health, health, and related outcomes (Helen C. Gift PhD, 1995).  In addition to physical well being, some researchers have linked oral health to psychological (Salovey, Rothman, Detweiler, & Steward, 2000) well being.

Through their work in a variety of nations including Cambodia, Nicaragua, Uganda, Bolivia, and recently in Colombia, these dedicated individuals have created bridges of goodwill between Canada and all of these countries.  On each weekly project, Kindness in Action can help approximately 500 people, performing examinations, extractions, restorations, cleanings and fabricating dentures. The guiding principle for their treatment programs is the relief of pain for the greatest number of people. This is balanced with prevention, dispensing toothbrushes and individual and school hygiene instruction.

Comprehensive community based prevention programs are being developed and implemented. These include the training of local people as dental health promoters. In addition, they have been able to support many small education, agricultural and health initiatives including new initiatives to assist communities to develop a 100 mile radius food security environment (Smith A., 2005).  While the intention is to create more sustainable living environments, especially in locations where there is limited population and great abundance of various food resources, another important aspect of food regional food security is related to climate change.  While the countries where Kindness in Action focuses their efforts are likely not contributing substantial amounts of CO2 to the environment, other nations, such as the US, Canada, or the UK contribute substantial amounts of CO2 to the environment through the food cycle.

In the case of the UK, it is estimated that food transport is equal to about 3.4% of the UK’s annual CO2 emissions (including both exports and imports) and about 3.6% of its final energy consumption (Smith A., 2005).  In the United States, transport of raw and processed food products (excluding exports) accounts for about 1.4% of total energy consumption (Heller, 2000) (Heller, 2003).  In short, what Kindness in Action is undertaking is proactive leadership that both enhances food security and sustainability while having the added benefit of minimizing negative impact of CO2, and reducing fuel consumption while engaging in proactive beneficial services that join together various nongovernmental resources that can help sustain and benefit areas of developing nations.  Seems to me, they’re on to something!

Sometimes one wonders why this kind of work is not more prolific.  As for myself, I would likely not have even heard about this wonderful organization had my dentist not mentioned to my wife that they were having visa difficulties for Colombia that might result in their having to just stay a day in Bogota and then fly to a different country where special visas were not required.  In fairness, Colombia was enduring tremendous flood damage due to La Niña, and there was an overload of visa requests from nongovernmental agencies attempting to access the country in order to provide assistance.  The flooding was characterized as the worst natural disaster in the history of Colombia (Kimball, 2011).  

In the case of Kindness in Action, they had arranged to have orphans bussed in from outlying regions so they could be treated in Bogota.  Because of the overwhelming number of visa requests from around the World, theirs had been delayed somewhat and the holiday season was upon us.  They had already bought their plane tickets and had packed their dental equipment; they were just waiting for a green light on their visas.
Knowing it would be difficult to accelerate visa issues and given the proximity to the Kindness in Action departure date, there would need to be assistance in order to expedite the visas for these great volunteers.   

Numerous people stepped up to help including the ongoing and heroic efforts of the First Secretary in charge of Consular Affairs in Ottawa, Ms. Mónica Beltrán Espitia.  The personal secretary to President Santos of the Republic of Colombia provided timely assistance.  The effort to assist these hundreds of Colombian orphans also came to the attention of Senator Juan Fernando Cristo Bustos and the Canadian Ambassador, Ms. Geneviève des Rivères also provided assistance to the Kindness in Action volunteers.

The reason I wanted to write about this amazing group is simple.  I have never met such a fine group of dedicated professional who are acting based on the rare concept of altruism.  In short, they are taking their time and investing their own money and efforts to try and make the World a better place.  These are the very kind of Canadians who make us all so proud.  In doing their service, they also bring a kinder and better image to the World as people think about Canadians with fondness in their hearts.  This is the kind of benefit that brings the World together and makes it a better place for everybody.  I think the great Dental Professionals from Kindness in Action represent the very best of everything that makes me and so many of us proud to be Canadians.


Helen C. Gift PhD, K. A. (1995). Oral Health, Health, and Health-Related Quality of Life. Medical Care , 33 (11), 57-77.
Heller, M. K. (2003). Assesing the sustainability of the U.S. food system: a life cycle perspective. Agricultural Systems (76), 1007-1041.
Heller, M. K. (2000). Life cycle-based sustainability indicators for assesment of the US food system. University of Michigan, Center for Sustainable Systems, Ann Arbor.
Kimball, J. (2011, January 01). Weather on MSNBC.com. Retrieved May 16, 2011, from MSNBC.com: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41254237/ns/weather/t/colombia-counts-heavy-cost-rains-floods/
Salovey, P., Rothman, A. J., Detweiler, J. B., & Steward, W. T. (2000). Emotional states and physical health. American Psychologist , 55 (1), 101-121.
Smith A., W. P. (2005). The validity of food miles as an indicator of sustainable development: Final Report. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, AEA Technology Environment, Didcot.

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