Tuesday, July 26, 2011



So I have decided to restart my blog to tell about my next adventure with Operation Smile-- CHINA! I will be traveling half way across the world and through 12 different time zones to lead and attend Mission Training and ISCE-- the International Student Cultural Exchange(previously known as ISLC).
Mission Training will prepare high school students for upcoming missions. Students have to go to an application process and then after they are selected, they come and are trained! There are two mission trainings each year. Winter is held in Virginia where Operation Smile headquarters is and summer is traditionally held the 3 days before the student conference at the site of the conference. In January 2010, I attended winter mission training and then just 5 months later I went on my mission to the Philippines. I am so excited for the opportunity for the newly accepted mission participants.

Anyways, back to the conference! Why China?!
Operation Smile is celebrating its 20th Anniversary of sending missions to China. Co-Founders, Bill and Kathy Magee, have dreamed of having the student conference there. The annual conference is typically held the first few days of August at a college or university around the United States. A few years ago, the conference took place in Ireland. This will be my 3rd conference with Operation Smile. I went to one in Virginia in 2009 and one in Colorado in 2010.
The theme of the conference is “Now is the Time.” “Now is the Time...” to be the change, to be someone, to make a difference. The theme encompasses Operation Smile Student Programs attitude and commitment to making a difference in the world no matter when or where. Student Programs focuses heavily on developing young adult leaders who will make a difference through their journey with Operation Smile and other aspects of their life. It is never to late to stand up for what you believe in or to make a difference in someone’s life.
While at the conference, students will have the opportunity to hear motivational speakers who will talk about how to develop your leadership skills. Also, several off-site activities have been arranged. We will be going to the GREAT WALL and Tiananmen Square! We will also have a day of bonding activities. All of the participants are divided up into teams. I am the leader of Team Believe. Each team is a motivational or inspirational word.

Check out the conference's website at www.operationsmile.org/isce!

I am sitting in Dulles airport, anxiously awaiting my flight to Detroit. After Detroit, I fly 13 hours to Tokyo and then one more short flight to BEIJING. I will finally be there after 36 hours of traveling. I can’t wait to be reunited with my Operation Smile family.

A few words of Mandarin:
Hello- Nín hǎo
Goodbye- Zàijiàn
Thank you- Xièxiè
Smile- Wéixiào

Mary Claire

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mission Essay

Operation Smile Mission to Pampanga, Philippines 2010
Travelling 7,000 miles and over 20 seemingly endless hours I found myself completely removed from the comforts of my southern Floridian home. I was in the Philippines, the farthest that I have ever been away from home. I was full of anxious anticipation and excitement wondering what was ahead. Arriving in Manila, we were immediately confronted with the hot, sultry weather of the Philippines and the immense poverty evidenced by the barefoot children running through the streets, litter-filled sidewalks, and rows of dilapidated lean-tos and shanties. The sights, sounds, and smells of a poverty stricken society hit me profoundly. My mission here became clearer…I could make a change here…I could help bring happiness to these people. I was ready to begin.
We spent our first night in Manila heading out the next morning to our mission site, Pampanga. After two days of acclimating to the 12 hour time change and the intensity of the dripping humidity of the Philippines, the first day of screening arrived. It is 7:45 a.m. and we are arriving at the hospital for our first team meeting, first team breakfast, and the first day of screening. It is a moist muggy morning and we know the day will only get hotter. This is the day I have been waiting for. I am a bit nervous. Would we immediately begin playing with the children, hearing their stories, and giving presentations? We are pulling up to the building, and I see children and adults anxiously waiting to be seen by the doctors, dentists, and other team members to be screened and prioritized for surgery selection. Melanie, my mission partner, and I had created our presentations, gathered countless toys, and had collected over 1,000 toothbrushes. I peer out of the bus window getting a glimpse of the crowd of people awaiting our arrival, and for the first time I see a child with a cleft lip. She appeared to be 3 or 4 years old and was shyly sitting curled up in her mother’s protective lap. I never met this little girl, however, she impacted my life. I will never forget that first instance of seeing her cleft lip and her yearning questioning eyes—it will be imprinted in my mind forever. My heartstrings were being tugged and I hoped and prayed that we would be able to make her life better and more complete.
Melanie and I were armed with bubbles, toothbrushes, crayons, coloring books, and blow-up beach balls to play with the children while they are waiting for their name and screening number to be called. We provide rest for the weary parents. The children seemed very timid and shy, not knowing who we were and what we wanted. With our ever present radiant smiles, we tried to entice them to come over and play by making simple hand gestures and showing that we had toys to play with. Eventually, Lawrence, a little boy with a cleft palate and cleft foot, wandered over towards us curiously and smiled. All it took was one child to provide the trust and comfort that we were there as friends. The other children were given the security they needed to play with us too. We had made an impact. We had extended a peacefully helping hand and it had been accepted. Lives were being changed.
One of the most difficult moments on the mission for me was seeing children turned away for surgery because of their current health- one boy was wheezing and coughing. Surgery would be unsafe to perform if one was sick which meant that they would have to wait for another team to visit Pampanga. This news is devastating to a family. I was helping one of the nurses bring patients from the pre-op area up to the room where they would wait for surgery. I was leading the nervous mother and her son up to the 3rd floor of the hospital. I smiled and introduced myself hoping to put them at ease. I learned that his name was Cipriano and saw that he had a unilateral cleft lip. The pediatrician carefully checked Cipriano out one last time listening intently to his breath through a stethoscope. He turned hesitantly and with disappointment in his voice explained that Cipriano would not be able to receive surgery this mission. Even though they were speaking a different language, I could tell that the pediatrician was delivering unwanted news, that Cipriano would be unable to receive surgery. Their heart-broken faces with tears welling in their eyes immediately and profoundly impacted me, I was overwhelmed with sadness. I had to remind myself that Operation Smile would be back and would hopefully be able to help Cipriano next year.
In the past, I have heard stories about missions and how incredibly inspiring and life-changing they are. My mission to Pampanga, Philippines with Operation Smile has made me appreciate all the big and small things in my life that I used to take for granted. I now have a better understanding of why Operation Smile was started and why it does make such an impact on not only the patients themselves but their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and the entirety of the Operation Smile team. I can share my experience with friends and family and express my sincere gratitude for those who give selflessly of their time and expertise travelling to all corners of the world to help other. I am so grateful to have had this experience and cannot wait to help “change more lives one smile at a time.” 

-Mary Claire Craig :)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mission Video


These are some of my favorite photos that I compiled to make a video. After you come back, for your role as a student you must make a video and write an essay about your experience on the mission. Here is my video( Song: Transaltanticism by Death Cab For Cutie)! My mission essay will be added very shortly to my blog.

Salamat Po,
MC : )

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I remember applying this past fall and not even imagining that I would be traveling across the world to the Philippines. I will never forget this experience.

I would like to thank a few people:

Operation Smile- Thank you for giving me and other high school students this unique opportunity to travel on the medical missions. Operation Smile has had an incredible impact on me, my family, and on my school. I am so grateful to have had this experience and to be able to go back home and tell people about this wonderful organization and my experience with it.

Adrienne- Thank you for being an AWESOME student sponsor! You always helped us playing with the children, getting the adults involved, and helped Melanie and I during the presentations.

Melanie- Thank you for being a fantastic partner! You were so much fun to be around and a really hard worker.

The Team- It was incredible how we all came together to change the lives of 140 children and adults in less than a week. It was amazing to meet all of you and thank you for all that you did on the mission.

It has been just a month since I returned from the Philippines. I can't believe it. I am so fortunate to have had this experience. I loved the people, the children, the culture, and the beautiful, green fields.

Less than a year ago, I was preparing for my first International Student Leadership Conference. I never thought I would have gone a mission less than a year after that.

Salamat Po,
Mary Claire :)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Last Days of the Philippines


These last few days have been a whirlwind. Our last day in Pampanga we packed-uped the hospital, pre-op, and post-op. Melanie, Adrienne, and I handed out the rest of the toys to the patients, families, and also to some of the local volunteers. We got to see all of the children and adults from the past day that got surgery. Their new lips made me smile and overjoyed. We saw the 30 year old man whose surgery we watched without a cleft lip. I met a boy that had cleft palate surgery that was my same age: 16. Meeting people with cleft lips and palates my age really hit home with me. His mother told me that he was graduating school soon (In the Philippines, you graduate from high school at 16). All of the patients and especially the mothers were so grateful for us coming. But in reality, I am thankful for them too. They have changed my perspective on life.
Reflecting back on those last few days in Pampanga, I do not only see the 140 lives changed but also the lives of the volunteers, the families, and the people of Pampanga changed. The impact the of the Operation Smile on San Fernando and Pampanga was greatly stressed at our Final Party. Many of the local volunteers and people from organizations that sponsored Operation Smile coming to Pampanga got up and talked about it. The Filipinos were very hospitable and had open arms from start to finish. I learned a tradition about saying farewells- You do not say “goodbye”, you say “see you soon.” We made a toast about seeing each other soon and returning back to Pampanga. If I had the chance to return, I would not hesitate. The warmness and openness of the Filipinos is hard to imagine until you go and visit.
I learned a lot about about the Philippines from the local volunteers and just by looking and watching. The poverty level is about 70%. I also learned that the other 30% is very wealthy and very ready to help and lend a hand to those in need. Another thing I learned is the the rate of cleft lips for developing countries is the highest in the Philippines. Our last day in Pampanga, we visited a famous church, San Guillermo Parish Church, that showed how the affect of the eruption of Mount Pinotubo in 1991, even thought the volcano is over 2 hours away. Some of the only visible parts of the church were the roofs.
The next day, Saturday, we traveled back to Manila to spend the day there before our flight that night. We went to GreenHill Mall. I realized that none of the malls that we visited in Manila are small. You could get lost so easily. Without the help of Jicz, a nurse and local Filipino from Manila, at the GreenHill Mall we would have gotten seriously lost and paid way too much for our purchases. We grabbed a late lunch at The Hard Rock Cafe and headed back to the hotel in Makati to change and get our luggage to go to the airport.
I am just arriving home to Florida after 20+ hours of travel from Manila. I am sure the 12 hour time change is going to hit me soon, I can only wait.

Salamat po for reading and following my blog : ). I will post pictures soon, so look out for those.

Ingat palagi (take care always),


Friday, June 4, 2010

Last Day of Surgery


Yesterday was the final day of surgery. The team did a total of 4 surgery days, screened around 198, and did 140 TOTAL SURGERIES!!!!! :D Not only were the lives of the 140 patients changed but the lives of the families were changed too. The lives of the grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends, and other relatives were all changed by this simple surgery. I am so honored to be a part of this organization that impacts so many lives. The people of San Fernando and of Pampanga were so appreciative. We spent the majority of the morning in the Post-Op and Pre-Op. In Post-Op we had the chance to see all of the patients of the previous day with a new smile. It was so amazing. Many of the children that we followed through the week were in this batch of patients. Akil was one of my favorite little boys. He was getting surgery on his palate. He was so happy throughout the whole process- always smiling, even after surgery. It made me thrilled, ecstatic, so happy, words cannot even describe about how happy I was for him and his family. He kept smiling and waving and blowing kisses at me. They lived about 2 hours away by bus/jeepney and started on their journey back home that morning. I gave him the Claire Bear and his mother told me how much he liked it.
After going in Post-Op, we headed over to Pre-Op where we played with a bunch of the children and adults before they headed over to the hospital. Music, pipe-cleaners, coloring entertained many of them for a while. It was one of the little girl's birthdays- Daisylyn. She was turning 8 years old. One of the nurses, Kelly, gave her a big present and ordered a birthday cake for her to blow out the candles. Someone came in with the cake and we all sang happy birthday to her. She seemed so happy. She was having surgery on her palate. After spending most of the morning there, we headed over to the hospital to give presentations in other parts of the hospital and handed out toothbrushes. We helped out in the Pre-Op rooms of the child-life specialist, Toni, and then later that after noon we went up to the OR to watch surgeries and play with the children in the waiting room. Melanie and I watched different parts of many surgeries and watched the majority of one surgery of a 30 year old man. Kumar, plastic surgeon from India, was performing the surgery. He explained certain parts and we observed the making of a new smile. It is quite magical to see a cleft lip come together to form a new one. We stayed at the hospital until about 7:30 and then headed off to a team dinner. It was at another one of the local volunteer/sponsor's houses. It was very relaxing after a long day at the hospital.
I cannot believe the mission is over! WOW! It went by so fast. I loved every minute of it- the team, the natives, the food, the patients, and the new smiles.

-Mary Claire : )

Akil, his Mom and I

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Third Day of Surgery


We were scheduled to go to another orphanage/home but before that we spent some time in post-op. We got to see many of the children, adults, and toddlers with new smile that we saw before at screening and pre-op. We saw David and Daniel-twins that both had cleft lips. JB- 1 year old with a cleft palate. JB's parents gave me a small gift and told me that it was so that I would never forget them. Later inn the morning we went to a home for abused women and girls. Many of the girls there still have court cases pending. It was about 45 minutes away. It is located at the foot of the Mount Arayat. We saw toddlers, girls our ages, and mothers at this home. We gave more presentations today about Dental Hygiene, Burn Care and Prevention, Nutrition, and ORT. Some of the girls were very excited and interactive while others were very timid and shy. After the presentations, we handed out nail polishes, brushes, toys, and hair ties. I met one girl that was 16, the same age as me. We then headed back to the hospital to get our first look into the OR. Once back at the hotel, we put on our scrubs and other gear and headed in. Jason, the medical student, and Shoba, anesthesiologist, explained how the anesthesia works. Jason continued to help Melanie and I understand each step of the repair, either cleft palate or lip. A few days ago Kumar, a plastic surgeon gave Melanie, Adrienne, and I a short presentation on the anatomy of the lip and what process they use to repair them. It is so helpful to have so many people there to teach us about it. My favorite part about observing the OR is the final steps of fixing the cleft lip- sewing both sides of the lip together. It all finally comes together to form a beautiful new smile. We ate dinner at the hospital and then went back to the hotel at about 9 to catch some sleep.
I learned a few other words of Tagalog-
Ma-i-nit- It's hot
Ma- la-mig- It's cold
Pogi Ka- You are handsome

- Mary Claire : )