Jan and Larry Tepe are dentists who have devoted the past twenty years of their lives to annual and semi-annual trips to Intibucà, Honduras, providing dental services to the people in that remote mountain village. They are part of Shoulder to Shoulder, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit providing medical and dental care as well as teachers and a bilingual school for the children of Intibucà.
I have listened to Jan tell her stories for over a decade: raising money for supplies and dental equipment, teaching the Honduran children how to take care of their teeth. She has spoken of the grueling trip to get there, going over boulder-marked dirt roads at five miles per hour. Every time she tells the stories her eyes focus with passion and determination.
I saw Jan yesterday and heard her stories once again. She and Larry had just returned from Honduras, a trip they anticipated would be their final chapter. Two years ago, they had worked to make the clinic self-sustaining, adding two Honduran dentists and teaching a small cadre of people what needed to be done to make the clinic successful. Thus, Jan and Larry returned one last time to see how well the clinic was doing, to put an “alleluia” on their two decades of work.
They marveled at the cement road leading to Intibucà, making the trip so much easier. They were told the electricity is much more stable now, and less prone to power surges guaranteed to blow out motors. The clinic was up and running successfully, except for some broken-down equipment. Larry—the fix-it guy—got everything up and running again. Time for that alleluia, right?
Jan heard about an even more remote village in a valley, called the “poorest of the poor.” Although they were warned about the difficulty of the trip, she and Larry decided to go there.
The drive took over five hours and ended at the base of a mountain. From there, they hiked another two and a half hours, up the mountain and down the other side, negotiating the continuous switchbacks. Their backpacks were laden with supplies to provide basic dental care along with water for themselves.
They were greeted by a crowd of villagers.
“You know, I’m not a touchy-feeling person,” Jan said. “But this one lady just threw her arms around me and hugged me.” In that day, Jan and Larry provided dental care to over fifty people–mostly children—and they said that they would return.
“Look at these faces,” she said, unrolling some pictures of the children. “How can you turn away from these faces?”
People from another village heard about their trip and their work and contacted them before they left Intibucà to see if the Tepes would also come to them on their next trip.
So, instead of a triumphant return from their final trip, Jan and Larry have turned back to a new page one. They will be going back to Honduras for many more trips. Their “retirement” will be filled with fund-raising, supply acquisition, equipment donations, teaching, and the Honduran children Jan and Larry love so much.
I honestly can’t imagine anything better.