Editor's note: A student volunteer for , Karen Mayet of Ohio, U.S., shares her experience of attending a , in October 2017. Karen is a sophomore at Miami University studying international development, Spanish and management. Her involvement with Operation Smile began in high school when she attended her first International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) to learn more about the organization. Since then, she's become passionate about the organization and has attended two more ISLCs and is co-founder and president of Miami University’s Operation Smile club.
Nested in her recovery room bed at Hospital Japonés, 8-year-old Carly peeled open her Smile Bag and joyfully unpacked the contents inside – stuffed animals, crayons, coloring books – all of which had been lovingly collected by Operation Smile volunteers.
Twenty-one-year-old Naheli was fondly perched at her sister’s side, just like she had been all week; she was watching over Carly, who colored for a few minutes before finally drifting off to sleep. Carly had received surgery for her cleft lip during this Operation Smile medical mission, and this moment of rest – and relief – was welcome.
Like many others, Naheli and Carly made their way to this Operation Smile medical mission site in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for the safe and well-timed surgical procedures the organization provides to children born with cleft conditions all over the world, and all free of charge.
In just a span of seven days in October 2017, Operation Smile's team provided this life-changing surgical care for Carly and 109 fellow patients.
Here's a look at some heartwarming moments from this medical mission.
Families traveled to Operation Smile's mission site in Santa Cruz and each potential patient received a health screening during this first day of the medical mission. Operation Smile is dedicated to providing safe surgery, which means that every child is examined, or screened, to make sure they're health enough for the surgery.
Screening day is the longest day of the medical mission process, so the student team, comprised of youth from both the U.S. and Bolivia, spent the entire day entertaining children with games and teaching health care lessons to their families. Trained by medical professionals, Operation Smile student volunteers learn the fundamentals of health care – including nutrition, dental hygiene and hands-only CPR – so they can teach these skills to patients and their families during the medical mission.
Visiting The Shelter
On the third day of the medical mission, the student team headed to the patient shelter, which Operation Smile provides for families that traveled a far distance to reach the mission site. The students organized dancing games and a fashion show for all the kids.
Throughout the surgery days, the children wait for their operations by engaging in therapuetic play with child life specialists and student volunteers.
Caring for the Whole Patient
Operation Smile doesn't just provide surgical care for patients born with cleft lip and cleft palate. The global medical nonprofit works to ensure that each patient receives the care he or she needs, from speech training to nutrition assistance to ongoing care.