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Sunday profile: Glenwood resident Annie Zancanella known as ‘Tanzanian Tooth Fairy’ after 5 months in African nation

Brushing your teeth with a stick and salt is almost impossible to imagine, but that’s exactly what kids were doing when Glenwood Springs resident Annie Zancanella arrived in Tanzania last fall.

“Most of the students didn’t own tooth brushes,” Zancanella said after her return from visiting and teaching at a school in Arusha, Tanzania.

Zancanella spent five and a half months in Africa volunteering in local schools and orphanages with the intent of working in child care, but soon discovered a bigger need.

She quickly became known by the African children that she taught as the “Tanzanian Tooth Fairy.”

“I thought I was going to go and help out and teach,” Zancanella said. “Then I realized what a valuable source I was for the dental knowledge that I had from all the years working in the field. It would be a waste for me not to use that knowledge while I was there.”

kid connection

Her dental career began in 2006, when she began working at All Kids Dental in Glenwood Springs. Since then, Zancanella’s love and interests in dental education and helping children have only grown.

“I loved the pediatric side of it,” said Zancanella. “I always had a connection with the kids. The doctor was always like, ‘You’re the children whisperer.’”

After her first day in a Tanzanian school last fall volunteering with child care, Zancanella was asked by the principal to examine 150 children. She quickly found that their oral hygiene was in a terrible state.

It wasn’t long before she began traveling to other schools in the area to spend a day with each class, teaching them about their health and hygiene needs.

“I realized that I needed to educate, starting at the younger ages before their adult teeth came in,” said Zancanella. “I would teach them the basics of brushing, supply them with a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, make fun games for the younger kids, sing songs and just help teach them.”

expanding the mission

Soon after her discovery, Zancanella started her own program to begin bringing oral hygiene to the children in the schools and orphanages of Tanzania.

She recruited other volunteers with various expertise, including doctors, nurses and other oral hygienists from Canada, Australia, Pakistan and Egypt.

She also started working with the Imara Ministry Foundation (IMF), a Christian organization aiming to strengthen the church. One of its main focuses is to support women with HIV, working to empower them and teach them valuable skills in order to support their households.

With IMF members and fellow volunteers in the medical fields, Zancanella began traveling to nearby villages to help the residents that were in need of health education and diagnosis.

“We got together and went out there and realized how desperate these people are for some kind of medical help,” Zancanella said. “Each week we would go out into these remote places and more and more people were showing up at these little huts, traveling for hours to come and see us.”

return trip planned

Since she returned from Tanzania in December, Zancanella has been working seven days and 68 hours a week to raise the necessary money for her to continue her work and program in Africa. She plans to travel back at the end of August.

“I came home and I was more motivated than ever to get back to Africa,” she said. “I just want to get back there and help. I have a feeling for the next few years that’s what I’m going to be doing — going for a chunk of time and then coming back and just working, working, working to go again.”

During her initial visit, Zancanella said many people sent her packages for her program, which proved to be difficult, time consuming and costly.

She said the best way to support her program is by donating so that she can use the funds to purchase supplies while in Africa.

Anyone wishing to contribute to Zancanella’s program can visit www.gofundme.com/f/tanzanian-tooth-fairy

going mobile

One of the most important components of her organization is it’s mobilization. Her mobile program is called “Arusha’s Mobile Medical and Dental Outreach, in Cooperation with IMF.”

When the demand became apparent in other villages for Zancanella and her fellow medical volunteers, the most important component of the program was initially finding an appropriate vehicle to navigate the African terrain.

“We spent a lot of time making sure that the mobile program had a good vehicle to help facilitate us out there,” she said.

Although there was a significant language barrier, Zancanella worked with the children and other local doctors to bridge this gap. She even began learning some Swahili and teaching the Africans some English at the same time.

The language difference was especially difficult when her group of volunteers traveled to the remote villages to treat people.

“We got translators and local doctors that went with us each time so we could also understand,” Zancanella said. “In Africa, a lot of medicines are called different things and we don’t know a lot of the illnesses. We’re not trained in Malaria and Typhoid and stuff that we don’t have here in the United States.”

loving people

For Zancanella, her trips to Africa are about more than just the dental and medical work that she does for the locals.

“For me, it’s the love of the people,” she said. “The Africans totally embrace you.”

Throughout her first trip, Zancanella was surprised by the level of kindness that she was shown.

“You walk down the streets there and they come running up to you,” she said. “They’re hugging you and hanging off of you, and you walk a few blocks with kids holding your hands, then they trickle off back to their houses.”

Although Zancanella is a Glenwood Springs native, she found a new home that she is excited to return to in the villages of Tanzania.

“It feels like you have this gigantic family,” she said. “I’ve never been in a culture where I’ve felt so loved.”

personal motivation

Since 2009, Zancanella has had her own battles to fight, struggling on and off with cancer in five of her organs. Throughout her chemotherapy, radiation, experimental trial treatments and relapses, she has tried to focus on the bright spots in her life.

“It’s really helped form who I am and change me in the best possible ways,” said Zancanella. “It’s strange to say that such a horrible illness is such a blessing, but it is.”

Zancanella sees her cancer as a source of inspiration that pushes her to remember the terrible circumstances that many others face.

“Throughout my time, I’ve tried to do things to try to help bring people peace or comfort in some way,” she said. “For me, there are so many people in the world that have it so much worse, and what I have is minuscule compared to others.”

Her volunteer trip served to bring a newfound purpose to Zancanella’s life in the wake of her rocky health.

“I want to do good for the rest of my days,” she said. “It’s so fulfilling. I get so much out of it and others get a lot out of it. I wanted to do something truly good in life.”

Zancanella said her parents, Buzz and Gracie Zancanella, who have since passed, set a good example for her from a young age. She remembers them as very involved in the local community, never refusing to help a neighbor in need.

“They instilled that in me to always treat people the way that you wish to be treated,” she said. “I want my parents to look down and be proud of what I do.”

Savannah Kelley of Glenwood Springs is a freelance writer and student at the University of Denver.

Invasive mussel threat on the rise at Ruedi, other Colorado reservoirs

Ruedi Reservoir and other Colorado waterways are facing an increased threat of infestation by invasive mussels that could interfere with the function of dams and irrigation systems and harm native fish, according to state and local authorities.

It’s not an issue that can be taken lightly, Colorado Parks and Wildlife says, because operators of reservoirs might be forced to close them to boating to protect their infrastructure.

At a statewide level, inspectors have intercepted 51 boats infested with mussels this year — equaling the total for all of last year.

The numbers are also up at Ruedi Reservoir where inspectors intercepted four boats in June and decontaminated them, according to April Long, executive director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority. No mussels were detected at Ruedi Reservoir prior to 2018, when two craft were intercepted and decontaminated. Once clean, they are allowed to enter the water.

“The numbers show this is an increasing threat,” Long said.

All four boats intercepted this year came from Ruedi from Lake Powell, which has been infested with mussels for several years, according to Long.

In all cases, the boats were carrying Quagga Mussels, a small shellfish native to Eurasia that was inadvertently transported to North America by cargo vessels in the late 1980s.

Long said the shellfish pose a threat to all infrastructure at Ruedi — particularly the mechanical system used at the power and water authority’s hydroelectric plant beneath the dam and the mechanism the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation uses to control flows.

The shellfish reproduce rapidly and attach themselves to any surface in still water. They do not pose a threat in rivers and other running water, according to CPW officials. However, they could ruin the fishing at Ruedi. They consume plankton and disrupt the food web. They out-compete sport fish and native fish, according to the wildlife service.

Boats are supposed to be inspected when they leave Lake Powell, but inspection stations are regularly overwhelmed so some boat owners sneak through. Boaters are also supposed to clear, drain and dry their craft in between uses but that doesn’t always happen. Mussels can also be found on paddleboards and canoes that have been in Powell. That poses an even greater danger that they could end up in Colorado waterways where inspections aren’t undertaken.

At Ruedi, the aquatic nuisance species program began in 2008 but was not fully implemented until last year, when enough funding was secured to provide inspectors at the main ramp for extended hours.

The concessionaire that runs the campgrounds at Ruedi — Rocky Mountain Recreation Co. — runs the inspection program under contract to Ruedi Water and Power Authority. Several parties contribute funds to the program.

All boats entering and leaving the reservoir must be inspected. The main boat ramp is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. during July, which is the busiest month at Ruedi. The ramp is closed to all boat traffic when inspectors are not on site.

“We’ve had our lock broken this year and it’s happened in the past,” Long said.

She thinks it is more a case of people wanting access during off-hours rather than opposition to the inspection program. Nevertheless, scofflaws could end up getting Ruedi infested with mussels, she said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife said this would be a record for the number of boats intercepted with mussels statewide. Since the invasive species became an issue, more than 200 vessels with confirmed mussel infestations have been intercepted and decontaminated.


Meet your new community newspaper editor

Hello Rifle and Garfield County. I wanted to take a little bit of time to introduce myself.

My name is Kyle Mills, and I am the new editor of The Citizen Telegram serving western Garfield County.

My wife Angela and I recently purchased a home here in Rifle, along with our daughter; we have lived in Garfield County for two years now.

I grew up in a Jerome, Idaho, a small farm community very similar to Rifle and the surrounding area, just not as close to the mountains.

The son of a fourth-generation farmer, my blue-collar parents raised my three brothers and me to work hard and follow our passions.

Being the youngest, I knew my chances of taking over the family farm were slim, and at an early age I decided that I wanted to document and tell people’s stories through photos.

With the help of my high school yearbook teacher, I chose to work in the newspaper field covering local communities. I was able to cover several events for my local weekly, the North Side News, and still remember the pride I felt seeing my first photo published in newsprint.

After earning an associate degree from College of Southern Idaho and a bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University, I spent a year interning at daily newspapers in Idaho and later Indiana.

My career path took me back to Idaho once again, landing my first full-time journalism job in Lewiston, Idaho, at the Lewiston Tribune.

For 17 years, I covered Lewiston and the surrounding communities as a staff photographer.

I learned what community journalism is all about — meeting community members and telling their stories — covering town and local school sporting events.

That is where I learned the true meaning of community journalism.

In order to truly tell a community’s story you must be a member of the community.

I retired from my staff photography position in 2017 to follow the love of my life to the great state of Colorado.

The first year in Colorado I did odd jobs and picked up a few freelance jobs with local papers, but mainly I enjoyed the beauty that is the Western Slope.

But something was missing; I felt the pull to return to storytelling.

Ink runs through my blood, and I jumped at the chance to become a member of Swift Communications a year ago.

For the last year I have been working as the features/creative editor at the Post Independent in Glenwood Springs.

There, I have been covering human interest features, arts, entertainment and even documenting local events from Carbondale to Parachute.

Something was still missing. I felt like I didn’t belong to the community of Glenwood, because I didn’t live there.

I had been drawn to Rifle almost since the day I set foot on Colorado soil — the charm of Third Street, the rustic feel of the county fair and of course the picturesque backdrop of the Roan Plateau.

When the word came that former CT editor Alex Zorn was leaving, after a short conversation with my family I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

Monday marked my first official day on the job, and I hit the ground running chasing stories and filing through emails.

You will be able to find me at The Citizen Telegram office in the Midland Building on Third Street in Rifle.

Feel free to stop by and say hello, and if you have a story or know of someone who does, don’t hesitate to call or email.

I hope when you pass me on the street, you’ll say hello. I look forward to meeting the community, and it will be an honor to lead your community newspaper.