In the fall semester, Virginia Commonwealth University junior dental and hygiene students begin working to gain a place on the Jamaica Project team for their senior year. This project represents the VCU School of Dentistry's annual international humanitarian mission and affords selected dental students, along with faculty, a remarkable global experience in humanitarian care.
The project began in April 1986 when Dr. Mario Saravia, a faculty member of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry, assembled and directed a team of thirteen compassionate dental students along with faculty to communities in Jamaica with little or no access to dental care. The inaugural trip lasted two weeks and treated over 1200 patients.
Since that time, the VCU Jamaica Project has grown to three consecutive weeks of service beginning the last week of October. Procedures include extractions, restorations, cleanings and oral health education. The average number of patients treated and procedures completed during a trip has been more than 1100 and 3100, respectively.
Teams operate primarily out of a minimal health clinic owned by the Everglades Farms near Clark’s Town, but smaller groups travel to elementary schools throughout the Trelawny Parish to provide nutritional and oral health education.
The Robert F. Barnes Jamaica Fund was created on the project's 25th anniversary in honor of Dr. Barnes' 16 years of leadership as faculty advisor. Distributions of the fund will be used to purcahse portable dental equipment.
Students and faculty continue to pay their own airfare and meals – students consider the project a highlight of their dental education, often setting the stage for incorporating humanitarian service throughout their professional careers.