Anchored in San Pedro La Laguna

By Anne Baer
Photos provided by Dr. Biederman and Proyecto FE International

Biederman 2015

Towering, jungle-draped volcanoes overshadow the lakeshore town of San Pedro La Laguna, which sits at over 5200 feet and is home to Guatemalans of predominantly Mayan descent. In the heart of the town rests the school where Alaskan businessman Joe LoMonaco first encountered a pastor and his wife who dedicated their lives to changing their community through education. Twenty years ago, the duo laid the foundation for the school, slowly building and expanding on their dream. Inspired by both the deep poverty of the locals and humbled by the great faith of the school organizers, LoMonaco eventually founded Proyecto Fe International, which now sponsors anywhere between 275 to 300 students.

A health clinic affiliated with the school flourishes, finally ready after ten years—except for one essential element: dental volunteers. Good thing LoMonaco had shared his travels with his dentist, Dr. Paul Biederman, back in Anchorage. Dr. Biederman, a general dentist who after 30 years recently transitioned from owner to associate, was ready for a new challenge and was stirred to share his faith in an active way. “I was inspired by what Joe would tell me about the kids he sponsored in San Pedro and the desperate need for dental care,” Dr. Biederman recounts. “But it was also a chance for me to help transform the lives of these people, in addition to offering my heart.”

When he finally accompanied LoMonaco, Dr. Biederman was completely blown away by his own transformation. Dr. Biederman states, “I thought I was the one who was going there to give something—my skills as a dentist and help in relieving suffering. That did happen as the need for dental care is massive, particularly with the children, but I was the one who came back changed. My time there was transforming.”

Group photo

Another Anchorage contact, Dr. Mark Keller, accompanied Dr. Biederman on that first visit. As a pedodontist, Dr. Keller was bowled over by the sheer number of children with issues to be relieved and the kids’ response. “The kids are so happy when we help them. They have been in such pain, laying their faces on the cold concrete floor to get relief. It’s not so much that your heart is broken, but that your heart is broken open. We are superheroes to these kids, taking away the pain and providing them a future.”

Dr. Keller goes on to explain what happened for him while in Guatemala. “People will say, ‘Wow, you guys did a lot,’ but I feel like I got a lot more than I gave. You are basically given a lesson in loving people by this culture.”

Dr. Keller’s comments reflect what LoMonaco found in San Pedro La Laguna during his initial visits. He was introduced to a people who harbored a deep-seated sense of low self-regard and, therefore, had no faith their lives could be changed. With a corrupt government, the native Mayan descendants are often “low man on the totem pole” when it comes time to provide healthcare or any basic necessity to the population. “We are changing the culture via education. The locals have always known poverty and don’t historically value good health, particularly dental health,” LoMonaco explains. “We are showing them that good health can transform lives.”

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Encouraged by the efforts at the school clinic, Dr. Biederman recently expanded his dental reach. On his last visit, Dr. Biederman asked permission to venture into the surrounding remote mountain villages and came away with another goal: mobile dental vans, fully self-contained so he can offer relief as well as initiate change beyond the border of San Pedro. Dr. Biederman invites everyone to be part of the change. “You can make a difference, regardless of your skill set. You will leave having given so much more than a healthy mouth. You’ll come away a new person for having shared hope.”

Click here to see the original article.

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