Bart Roach first visited Guatemala a decade ago, when he was fresh out of college.
He’d gone to the Central American country to volunteer, but didn’t last long at it. After three weeks, he had an epiphany: he wasn’t doing much good.
So the Pasco native — part of the sprawling Roach family, which has deep roots in the Tri-Cities — quit and helped run a hostel in Guatemala instead, staying four months.
And he made a promise: He’d come back when he had some real skills.
Roach is a man of his word.
Now 32 and a dentist, he’s back in Guatemala this week — leading a team of dentists and dental hygienists from around the world.
They’re heading to the small fishing village of El Paredón, where they’ll spend a week treating patients.
They’re being hosted by The Driftwood Surfer, a hostel on the beach.
The trip marks Roach’s 10th visit to Guatemala and his sixth trip there providing volunteer dental care.
His team includes six dentists and hygienists. Two Tri-City-based reporters — from the Tri-City Herald and Northwest Public Television — also are tagging along to bring back photos, video and stories.
Roach and his crew will arrive in El Paredón on Sunday.
The village is home to about 900 people. There’s little development — no gas station, no grocery store.
“Nothing but a couple tiendas to buy suckers (and the like), a little fried chicken stand and a hardware store,” Roach said. “When we come to town, we’re the main event.”
The village doesn’t have its own dentist, so Roach and company have a lot of work ahead of them — lots of fillings, lots of extractions and lots of calculus, or hardened plaque, to remove.
In the U.S., dental problems generally are addressed early, before they become significant, Roach said. It is not the same for El Paredón.
“They don’t have access to care in Guatemala, so it’s always a big issue by the time they come in to see us,” he said.
Roach graduated from Tri-Cities Prep in Pasco in 2002 — part of the Catholic high school’s first class. He went on to Carroll College in Montana.
He thought about becoming an immigration attorney like his uncle, Tom Roach, or a physician like his father, Dr. John Michael Roach, who works as a gastroenterologist at Lourdes Health.
But he ended up gravitating toward dentistry.
After dental school at Creighton University in Nebraska, he returned to the Tri-Cities and now owns Three Rivers Dental in Kennewick.
Travel is a big part of his life. He’s visited more than two dozen countries, including dental trips to Cambodia, India and Guatemala.
He has many stories of overseas adventures — about food he’s tried, illnesses he’s contracted, experiences he’s savored, places he’s seen.
To him, Guatemala is special. He talks about the ruins covered with bougainvillea, the coffee plants, the wild calla lilies, the still-smoking volcanoes along the road to the coast. And the culture is rich and diverse, with more than 20 languages spoken and indigenous people living and dressing the same way they have for hundreds of years.
Katie Rodgers is looking forward to seeing it all. She’s one of two dental hygienists from Arizona making the trip.
She met Roach at Carroll College. She was studying business, but she went to hygiene school a few years after graduation.
“I knew I’d have a skill set where I could help people become healthy,” Rodgers told the Herald.
This will be her first trip to Guatemala and her first overseas dental mission. She’s expecting to be busy. That’s what she wants.
“I’m so excited. I just want to help as many people as possible,” she said.
Roach wants the same thing. It’s why he keeps going back, a decade after that first visit and that promise.
Roach also helps in the Tri-Cities, including volunteering at Grace Clinic, the area’s only free clinic for the uninsured.
But Guatemala is in his heart. He loves reuniting with friends there. He loves the place, the people.
And there’s great need.
“In Guatemala, the poverty is more profound,” he said. “There is nobody who’s going to come and help them.”
Except for Roach. He’s on his way to El Paredón, with some friends, ready to get to work.
The Herald will send updates.
Kennewick dentist Bart Roach has a nonprofit, Sonrisa Immaculata, that aims to improve oral health of people in Guatemala. To learn more about it, go to sonrisaimmaculata.org.
The Tri-City Herald and Northwest Public Television are tagging along on Roach’s latest trip to Guatemala and will bring back photos, video and stories. Follow the Herald on Facebook, go to tricityherald.com or the print edition, and Northwest Public Television in the coming weeks.