PHOTO Elizabeth Acquaye-Kwarteng, 40, and her husband, Isaac Kwarteng, 41, are co-directors of the nonprofit Healing Hearts & Hands.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

Elizabeth Acquaye-Kwarteng remembers standing in line as a small child with her great-grandmother in Ghana, awaiting her turn to receive a cluster of inoculations from a visiting medical group.

“This is somebody who didn’t know me who took time out of their schedule to come and bless my life,” recalls the Garland dentist, who immigrated to the United States in 1989. “That motivated me to say, ‘Why can’t I do that for somebody else?’”

She has. Inspired by charitable work she did in Mexico while studying at Baylor College of Dentistry, Acquaye-Kwarteng conducted her first health clinic in her native land in 2009.

Her great-aunt, who has since relocated to Atlanta, recruited a couple of nurses, and they all visited an orphanage where Acquaye-Kwarteng did cleanings, removed rotted baby teeth and handed out toothbrushes and toothpaste.

That first trip was fortuitous — she met her future husband, Isaac Kwarteng, who instantly offered not only to help with her efforts but also to expand them. The couple began collecting and distributing clothing, shoes and toys as well as dental care products to the needy in Ghana. They registered a nonprofit, Healing Hearts & Hands, in the United States and Ghana.

The couple’s efforts expanded dramatically in 2015 when the Rotary Club of Dallas, where Elizabeth is a member, began raising funds to help sponsor annual clinics.

The impoverished rural villages where they set up treatment tents sometimes had no running water or electricity, so they brought their own generator. Typically, none of the residents had ever seen a dentist — there are only about 150 dentists in all of Ghana, and most are in Accra, the capital city.

PHOTO Kids line up in a schoolyard, one classroom at a time, to be seen at a dental clinic in Ghana that Elizabeth Acquaye-Kwarteng helps operate. There were lines all day.(Ted Fields)

‘A family project’

Isaac, who knows multiple Ghanian dialects from his days as a traveling advertising salesman, supervised logistics and supplies, arriving early to meet with tribal elders and determine where the group could set up. He now works in immigration services and is pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice.

“We do it like a family project instead of going on vacation,” he says.

The pandemic has brought a temporary halt to the clinics, which are expected to resume in 2022. Meanwhile, the Kwartengs have been gathering clothing, dental care products and other goods for Ghana, where the Rotary Club of Accra-West will distribute them to the needy.

“Because of COVID, I have not been there, but we have supplies and soccer balls and school supplies ready that we are about to ship,” Isaac says. He normally visits three times a year to lay the groundwork and assist with the Dallas

Rotary’s water wells. He expects that the current project of nine water wells and a latrine should be finished in March.

The club had already been involved in drilling water wells in Ghana and receives matching grants from both Rotary District 5810 North Texas and Rotary Club International, thus tripling the funds for each outreach.
PHOTO: Eno Boateng of Ghana practices brushing teeth on a dental model in Elizabeth Acquaye-Kwarteng’s traveling clinic.(Jim Frankiewicz)

“When I started, we saw maybe 100 or less kids, and now we do 1,000 kids and adults in one day,” marvels Elizabeth, who recruited her cousin and other dental hygienists to help.

Elizabeth runs triage, assigning people to lines for teeth cleaning, fluoride varnish and extractions.

The Rotary Club of Accra-West pinpoints where to send the caravan of buses, and the group does a full day of treatments in each of the three to four villages that they visit on each trip.

Local medical professionals pitch in, and the all-volunteer team comprises about 10 people who fly in from the United States plus 10 in Ghana, Isaac explains.

“It takes a special heart to be able to put time aside and pay to go across the ocean to help people you don’t know,” Elizabeth says.

‘The goodwill you bring’

Dallas oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Ted Fields has participated in six or seven of the trips, pulling diseased or surplus baby teeth and treating potentially fatal infections.

Isaac Kwarteng and Elizabeth Acquaye-Kwarteng have amassed a stockpile of donations in a storage area at Elizabeth’s dental office in Garland.
(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

“It’s not like I don’t do charity work here,” he says, “but I think it’s important to do good works and set good examples beyond your community, where you have no expectations other than making the world a better place. It’s the goodwill you bring.”

Fields finds it rewarding that he can treat as many as 300 people a day in Ghana, which he could never do in his practice here. Plus, he says, it’s fun.

“I’m kind of the goofball at the end of the day who is playing with the kids,” he says. “I know when I leave that they had an experience, and it meant something to them. We’re fortunate to get to do it ... because we get to make a difference.”

Dallas Rotary Club past president Bob Dilworth has also volunteered on a few of the expeditions.

“It was incredibly rewarding and also heart-wrenching to see the conditions that people live in there compared to here,” he says. “Liz and Isaac — they don’t come any better than those two. They have such a charitable heart and have helped so many people in Ghana, it’s unbelievable.”


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By Holly Haber