Providing Health and Oral Hygiene Services to Those in Need

Understanding the importance of providing students with real world experiences to foster empathy and community engagement, Thiago Mendes de Lima started the Comunidade Sorridente project with students at UNINORTE, providing health and oral hygiene services to communities in need in Manaus, Brazil, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.  

As a faculty member in the dentistry program at UNINORTE, Thiago Mendes de Lima believes in Laureate’s commitment to being Here for Good – being here for purpose and permanence. To him, delivering a high-quality education not only means theoretical lessons in the classroom, but giving students the opportunity to become more well-rounded by serving others in the community. 

In 2012, Thiago realized there was a need to provide children in communities near Manaus with oral health education and services, so he started the project Comunidade Sorridente in the Cidadão I and Fazendinha communities in northern Manaus, an area comprised mostly of shanty towns and settlements. Through Comunidade Sorridente, Thiago and his students began visiting these communities to teach the kids about oral hygiene using games and other activities.

As time progressed, they realized that the community’s health needs went above and beyond oral hygiene. Using the World Health Organization (WHO) methodology to measure a patients’ overall health, the team discovered that community members also needed further health education, as well as extended services and more serious procedures including small surgeries.

Today, the project empowers families to be healthy by advising and providing treatment on a wide range of issues such as sexually transmitted infections, breastfeeding, contraceptive methods, women’s health, parasitic diseases, dental hygiene and periodontal diseases. Every semester, 30 to 40 students volunteer for the program taking the services to the people, typically using spaces in religious or other community centers for treatments. For more serious operations and procedures, the team rents buses to bring those needing treatment to the campus clinic on weekends. Since 2012, Comunidade Sorridente has treated over 2,000 patients of all ages.  

“Through Comunidade Sorridente, our students have been positively impacting various communities that lack the resources or infrastructure to provide basic healthcare,” says Thiago. “For the students, this provides a wonderful opportunity to apply the knowledge they are gaining in the classroom to real life patients. Most importantly, this has been a powerful way to teach our students about empathy, and the importance of serving others.”  

In the future, Thiago hopes to see Comunidade Sorridente’s model expand into other disciplines within UNINORTE, envisioning an education where every program on campus provides a similar opportunity for students to learn.