Imagine if buying a toothbrush and toothpaste would be considered a luxury and not a necessity. This is the reality for many families in rural Nicaragua, who struggle even to access safe drinking water, nutritious food and basic medical or dental care.

Since the average cost of a toothbrush and toothpaste is around one U.S. dollar in Nicaragua, families who make less than $2 per day often cannot afford to purchase basic dental hygiene products. As a result, they are unable to properly care for their teeth, and oral health problems are common among children and adults.

“People don’t have the practice of brushing, and they won’t go to the dentist until the problem is so bad that you just have to get the tooth extracted,” said Marvin Picado, a PCI staff member who grew up in the same kind of remote rural community he now serves in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Colgate distribution in Jinotega

Marvin Picado, a technical facilitator for PCI’s USDA-funded MESA project, distributes oral hygiene kits from Colgate to students at Salomón Ibarra Mayorga School in Chaguitillo, a small community in San Sebastian de Yalí, Jinotega.

Picado is a technical facilitator for Mejor Educación y Salud (MESA or “Improved Education and Health” in Spanish), a PCI project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Through MESA, more than 79,000 children in 1,115 schools in rural Nicaragua receive a daily school meal and learn about handwashing and other health and hygiene practices.

“Unfortunately, even when we regularly give out information about the importance of this practice, this information is no good if they don’t even have a toothbrush,” Picado said.

To address this challenge and connect with private sector partners who have corporate social responsibility programs, PCI established a partnership agreement with the local distributor of Colgate in Nicaragua. The company’s Bright Smiles, Bright Futures® initiative donated 39,000 oral hygiene kits for students in target schools of the MESA project. Each kit includes a toothbrush, tube of toothpaste and information leaflet on oral health and hygiene.

“When we distributed these [kits], a few students came by to tell me that this is the first time they held a toothbrush in their hands,” said Linda Arroilga, a PCI staff member working in rural municipalities of Bluefields, a city on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.

One teacher in a community of San Sebastian de Yalí also spoke to the impact of the donation: “I know many of our kids have never practiced brushing before, but with these kits, they are more likely to start.”

As MESA moves forward, PCI and Colgate will continue to work together to provide these essential health supplies and trainings to all schools participating in the project. To learn more about PCI’s programming in Nicaragua, visit www.PCIGlobal.org/Nicaragua.