By Trina Hinton
Assessing the Need
The child’s eyes were intense. Her mom rubbed the small plaits in her hair, speaking gentle words of Swahili into her ear. This was small condolence for what was to come. The dentist’s pliers gripped the child’s decayed tooth, and were swiftly lifted away, holding its prize.
There was no anesthesia. Cries of agony filled the room. Pain medication would be needed.
Darius Jones knew his job well. He quickly filled a small, plastic bag with the necessary amount of small, white pills, handed it to the dentist and smiled at the child. Although it hurt now, he knew she would be better off later.
“Like a pro,” the dentist said, with eyes smiling above her medical mask.
Fourteen- year-old Jones was a dental pharmacist for the day, meeting medicinal needs with little resources, in the heart of Africa.
Solutions in a Bottle
“It was kind of weird seeing up close, people getting their teeth pulled out,” the now 15-year-old, braces-wearing Jones said. “Just to see them afraid of the dentist because they’d never gotten the attention they deserved. They might not have been so happy on their way in, but they were better on their way out.”
Jones’ memory of travelling across the Atlantic to experience the people of Kenya, Africa for two weeks, is still fresh five months later. As a part of a church mission trip dedicated to meeting the medical, dentistry, and spiritual needs of orphans and the poor in Kenya, Jones was one of the youngest participants.
His first encounter with a culture and lifestyle a world away from his own, did more than give him experience as a dentist’s assistant. His teenaged worldview was turned on its head.
“I learned to be thankful for what I have, because there are people in Africa without clothes, and I go to school and sit around at home in whatever clothes I want,” Jones said.
“When I get tired of them I throw them away and get new ones. I have more appreciation for the things I have.”
Mission accomplished, his parents, Charles and Dianne Jones said. “In taking him on the trip to Kenya I wanted him to mature and to see
how blessed he was in comparison to other kids,” said Charles Jones. “He’s gotten to a point where he wants to give back. He’s gotten a heart to give.”
But little did Jones know that his escapades into dental pharmacy and a newly transformed worldview, would give way to the path of entrepreneurship.
“Before we left I asked my parents if I could come back next year,” Jones said of his eagerness to return to the region. But after getting their approval the down time in between summer mission trips now seemed unproductive to him.
While I would be going to school and doing chores, there would still be sick babies in Kenya and people who needed help beyond the months of summer, Jones expressed.
But a snag in his role as dental pharmacist soon produced the solution that would keep him involved beyond hot months of summer. After running out of small baggies, Jones noticed medicine bottles that had been emptied by the mission team as they divided limited medications between patients.
“The bottles were safer for kids,” many having child-locks to keep little ones away from the small, multi-colored pills often mistaken for “sweets,” Jones said.
A mistake of that kind could pack extremely dangerous consequences.
“At our first location we ran out of little bags and I asked why can’t we use these bottles,” Jones said. “I was told that we didn’t have enough.”
Those words sparked a light bulb moment for Jones.
“At that point I knew I could continue to help Kenyans throughout the year,” Jones said, “by collecting empty medicine bottles that many of us Americans threw away everyday.”
Overflowing with ‘Hope’
And just like that Bottles of Hope was born, turning a teenage missionary into a charitable entrepreneur. Jones sent emails, made public announcements and updated his website to include the new project.
Word quickly spread about the young entrepreneur with a heart to give back.
“[I was] passing out business cards and speaking in front of my church and telling them about my website and cause. I also sent out emails to friends and colleagues, notifying them of what I’m doing,” he said.
His efforts paid off. The bottles began to pour in, far surpassing anyone’s expectations.
“I had no idea what to expect. I had never done anything like this before,” Jones said. “[Bottles] were mailed, dropped off at my church, and passed through family members. I’ve been getting them in constantly.
I have boxes and bags- a closet full of them!”
Jones estimated his current collection at press time was at least 1,000 bottles.
“I’ve counted two garbage bags-full at 500,” he said, “and I still have more than two garbage bags left. And that doesn’t include the boxes.”
But the large numbers and stolen closet space do not intimidate the ambitious teen.
“I’ll keep colleting bottles as long as I live,” he said.
Jones said he plans to either ship the bottles via boat months in advance of next year’s mission trip or bring them in large containers as carry-on luggage on the 16-hour flight to Kenya.
“People were very proud of me,” he said.
“[Proud] that I actually thought of the idea and went through with it.”
But even as he spoke of all the extra attention, it seems to be a matter of fact that glides right off his teenage shoulders.
The feat he has accomplished appears to hold little weight in his own eyes.
When asked what he thought of his efforts, you can almost see a mixture of promise and youthful nonchalance play in his eye, as a slight smile begins to pull at his lips.
He shrugs. “You can do whatever you put yourself to.”
With a small nod he added, “yep, whatever you put yourself to.”
To become a part of the Bottles of Hope phenomenon, visit Darius Jones website at http://helpteens.net.