Thanks to Global Dental Relief (GDR) and three University of Denver alumni, kids around the world can smile a little easier.
The Denver-based nonprofit, which provides free dental care to children, benefits from the leadership skills and passion of three graduates of the master’s program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Katy Troyer (MA ’06) serves as the organization’s associate director, while William Mateo (MA ’14) is its country coordinator. Winter Wall (BA ’08, MA ’11) volunteers as GDR’s trip leader.
“Already in my first year, I’ve traveled to countries I’d never visited before,” Mateo says. “I’ve learned what goes into running a successful global health nonprofit, and I use my Korbel education to ensure continued service to kids in need.”
Founded in 2001, GDR treated its 100,000th patient during a July 2015 trip to Guatemala. GDR provides dental care to children ages 5 to 15. Volunteers — a mix of dentists and nondentists — see the same children every two years, treating dental problems and providing education about oral hygiene. Annually, nearly 300 volunteers serve in five countries with GDR.
“Our model differs from other dental service nonprofit organizations,” Troyer says. “Many other models focus on treatment of symptoms rather than addressing underlying disease. Although dental professionals are essential in every clinic, you don’t have to be a dentist to volunteer. Our non-dental volunteers come from all walks of life and are just as important to our mission.”
Troyer, Mateo and Wall are based in Denver but travel with volunteers and work closely with community partners. “My favorite thing about our work is the tangibility and immediate impact of service,” Wall says. “We see children’s pain relieved and get to work with eager and engaged volunteers.”
Troyer adds that nearly everything she learned at Korbel has been applicable to her job at GDR.
“One of the greatest lessons I was taught was that international development is a tripod where human rights, humanitarian aid and development are equally important,” she says. “Whichever leg of the tripod your organization focuses on, there will be partner organizations you have to work with in the other two legs.”
Troyer notes that her Korbel professors stressed that real change starts at the local, grassroots level. “That is what drew me to GDR — the work with local groups who had existing relationships with the communities that we are interested in working with,” she says. “It has to be grassroots; it has to be bottom up if you want to see long-term success.”