By Ana Gonzalez
Through the Saint Apollonia Mobile Dental Clinic, 2018 YLAI Fellow Valesca Saint Cyr is able to deliver quality and affordable dental care to underserved communities in Haiti. The clinic travels to different areas for two or three days at a time and treats over 100 people each day.
To celebrate women’s entrepreneurship in the field of science, the YLAI Network shares Valesca’s inspiring efforts and successes in Haiti.
Why did you start the mobile dental clinic?
When I was a dental student, I joined a medical mission in Haiti. One of our patients walked all morning to get to us because he had a painful swell in his mouth, but we were unable to treat it due to our lack of resources.
It was after this that I and a group of fellow dentists founded the clinic to meet the dental needs of our community.
How has the community embraced your mobile clinic?
The people in the communities we go to are always happy to see us, and they always support us.
If I were to go to a community and we needed a generator, the people would work together to provide us with one.
How has your organization been successful?
Our organization has grown tremendously since 2016. We began with one dentist that could see only 30 people a day. In the second year, we had two dentists, who could see 77 people in one day.
We started very small, but we now care for over 200 people in just two days and that to me is a big success.
What do you envision for the future of Saint Apollonia Mobile Dental Clinic?
When we arrive at a site, we have to pack and unpack our tools, and this takes up a lot of our time and energy. One of our goals is to purchase a dental van so that we can easily park and immediately see patients.
We envision Saint Apollonia Mobile Dental Clinic as the largest mobile dental clinic in the Caribbean. We wish to partner with medical groups in other countries so that we can broaden our services.
What is it like to be a woman entrepreneur in your community?
It can be difficult and full of hard decisions. I am often belittled by my male colleagues, employees and even my patients. There are people who do not believe that I am the dentist and have even refused being treated by me.
I was encouraged by my friends and family to pursue dentistry despite this challenge. Now, people come looking specifically for me. I am one of the most preferred dentists in the community.
Do you have any advice for women who are pursuing a career or founding an organization based on science?
To be a woman entrepreneur, we need to focus on what we want to do and be really strong to do what we have to do. My advice for any woman in any type of career would be to be ready to face potential discrimination but do not give in. Always stand up for yourself. Be bold, be strong, and be smart.
How has the YLAI Network helped you achieve your mission?
The YLAI Network is a professional family that any entrepreneur should and must have. Through its courses and resources, the YLAI Network has helped me fulfill my mission. As a YLAI Fellow, I have made great friends and partnerships all over South America and the Caribbean. I am grateful to the YLAI Network for its support and for allowing us to network.
If you were to give a piece of advice to a YLAI Network member looking to make a difference in their community, what would you say?
You will face many obstacles, so you need to be aware of your own character and stay true to your mission. Never allow others to decide your path. Most importantly, love what you do and do what you love.
Through health and science, YLAI Fellow Valesca Saint Cyr is addressing the dental demands of Haitians in underserved communities.
Valesca and the YLAI Network encourage YLAI members and beyond to see past the barrier of gender and to support science-based organizations that can have a positive effect on the people of your community.