BY VON LOZON
“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
That quote is something that inspires Downriver dentist and Trenton Rotarian Dr. Noel Jackson to do his best every day, whether that be through his profession or through the Rotary Club.
It all depends on what your definition of “extraordinary” is, but what Jackson and his wife, Debbie, did this past Thanksgiving would certainly seem to fit.
The Jacksons boarded a flight to Ghana on Thanksgiving Day to be a part of a group of 21 Rotary Club members who offered a helping hand to residents there for an entire week. Some of the members even stayed for two weeks.
“There’s a (Rotary) club based out of Ontario that has been going to Ghana for the last five years,” he said. “I heard about this club going and they thought they’d like to bring a dentist to help out and expand the scope of what they were doing. And it sounded like a really great trip so I said I’d go.”
The trip took a year of planning due to all the things the members hoped to do while there. They helped create seven water wells, two sanitation units that have 20 toilets and four showers, and one school.
“A water well now supplies clean, fresh, safe water,” Jackson said. “Previously, the source of water would be surface water that’s contaminated. And the contaminated water kills children. Children die when they drink dirty water; they get intestinal disorders and dehydration and they die. So they don’t say ‘thank you’ for the water well, they say ‘thank you’ for the gift of life, and that’s the way they look at that.”
Along with that, Dr. Jackson teamed up with a Ghanaian dentist at a local hospital. The dentist and Jackson were able to learn new things from each other, all while helping Ghanaian kids with “extreme infections.”
“In fact, pathology-wise, I saw some things there that I had only previously seen in textbooks,” Jackson said. “We had one little 8-year-old boy on the first day I was there that had a massive infection in his neck that if we wouldn’t had drained it, it would’ve gone to his heart. I asked the dentist how often he gets an 8-year-old with this type of infection, and he said ‘every week.’ His second phrase was ‘I lose some of them.’ This is the gravity that they are up against on a daily and weekly basis.”
Jackson admitted that he and the Ghanaian dentist would work from 8:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. on most days.
“These people would stay in the waiting room and wouldn’t go away,” Jackson said. “And I wasn’t going to stop until they did! It was pretty amazing.”
The members also took 500 backpacks filled with school supplies and gave them to children, which is something they “absolutely don’t have,” according to Jackson. “It was amazing to see their faces when they saw the school supplies, colored pencils and so on. When you spark creativity in people and see their eyes light up, you know amazing things are going to happen.”
To top it all off, they also brought 60 hockey bags filled with medical and school supplies. Each bag, Jackson said, weighed just less than 50 pounds.
“We were only able to take our personal stuff in our carry-on on the airplane,” Jackson said. “All the checked baggage was assigned things that we had collected over the year. It’s just amazing all these people working together to make things happen.”
The 21 members that went on the trip were not the only ones to make things happen. The club was able to raise $184,000 for the trip, and every person that went on the trip paid their own way and were also responsible for raising at least $4,000, Jackson said.
Jackson gave a lot of the credit to the Rotary Club for his involvement in the mission trips that he has taken throughout his life, which includes trips to Nicaragua, Haiti, India, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
“To do those kinds of things, you can’t just do it yourself,” he said. “Rotary provides the mental and moral and financial conduit that can make it happen. When you have this Rotary conduit, it attracts the other people to make it happen. If you have the opportunity, pleasure and honor to step into that conduit, you get an experience you can’t find any place else in life. It’s really amazing.”