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 : )

Second Day of Surgery


Yesterday was the second day of surgery. We spent the morning visiting the pre-op. In pre-op, all of the children are so ready for surgery. They are waiting with either their parents, grandparents, or siblings to be called to go to the hospital to have their cleft lip or palate repaired. Coloring pages, small stuffed animals, and hot wheels cars help calm the nerves and the dullness of waiting. The parents are so thankful, saying "salamat" or "thank you" since many of them speak some English. After visiting pre-op, we had the chance to go to an orphanage. It was about 45 minutes to an hour away. Two student nurses from a nearby university came with us to translate. The orphanage was for children from ages 0-6; however, there were most of the children we saw were boys between the ages of 7-10. This was a place for abandoned children. We made presentations there and handed out toys. They were so full of energy and excitement. Always wanting to volunteer during the presentations and wanting to take lots of pictures. After the presentations, we took a small tour of the place. They had a house for disabled children, babies, and older children. We handed out a lot of toothbrushes here too. On the way back to the hospital, I realized how much you can learn from just watching the streets you drive through and listening to the noises from the streets in a car ride. Once we got back to the hospital, we went up to the pre-op to see Toni, the child life specialist, and then up to the waiting room outside of the OR. We played with children and gave smaller presentations. Melanie's little boy that she met at screening had surgery today of his cleft lip and his brother was having cleft palate repair later that day. She gave her Claire Bear to the older brother who had his cleft palate repaired. I tried Halo-Halo, which means mix-mix in English. It is dessert made of a layer of crushed ice on top and then things on the bottom to mix into the ice. Coconut and other things were at the bottom of my cup, halo-halo is so delicious and it cools you off in the hot and humid weather. We left the hospital around 8 ish and to have dinner at one of the local's houses. Just like at the welcoming party, huge trees were covered with hanging lights. There was more delicious food there too. Chicken, rice, ribs, and yummy desserts were abundant. Also, the lemon grass tea of the Philippines is very good. After, we came back to the hotel and crashed.
New words of Tagalog:
Guapo- Handsome
Masarap- Delicious
Cumostaca- How are you?

-Mary Claire : )

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Screening and First Day of Surgery


Yesterday was our first day of screening. We woke up at about 5:30 am and to get ready for the day. The night before we sorted through our toys and supplies. We brought chalk, toothbrushes, stickers, tons of bubbles, blow up beach balls, and crafty things like string to make bracelets. We had a team breakfast at the hospital at about 7 and then we started after that. It was a little overwhelming at first. This was the first time that I have ever seen a cleft lip in real life. We handed out coloring sheets and crayons to all of the children there for the beginning of the day. We got a picture with the Jollibee mascot that was there to see the children and hand things out to them. (Jollibee is a popular filipino fast food restaurant) All of the children were so shy at first. We tried attracting them by playing with beach balls and bubbles, but they still did not come. Then one boy came and played with us. His name was Lawrence. He ran around playing with and kicking the ball around. He showed the other kids that we weren't some scary people. Other kids then joined and then started playing with us. They especially came to us when we were handing out our toothbrushes and stickers. We handed out many toothbrushes after our Dental Hygiene presentations. Throughout the day we played with the children and made presentations. We stayed at the hospital until about 7:30 to see the admission announcements and had dinner at the hospital too. We headed back to the hotel and we were exhausted from our first full day with screening. It was so exciting to see all of the children.
Today was the first full day of surgery. There were around 30-40 surgeries performed today! YAYYYY! Melanie, Adrienne, and I stayed in Pre-Op for most of the day with the Child Life Specialist, Toni. We had two different rooms set up -one for toddlers and babies and another for adults and older children. Bubbles were a life saver today! Since the patients are not allowed to eat before surgery, the younger ones especially are very very hungry and tired. When they started to cry, bubbles would make them happy and content to stop crying. They are so fascinated by the bubbles. One little boy was so cute and started to smile and laugh when the bubbles would fall on him. Some had to wait very little time in the Pre-Op rooms and some had to wait longer times. We played Jenga with the older children and adults and memory card games. Also, Twister and Hot Potato were other favorites. The babies loved the light up toys and rattles and anything else that made noise. We met many local student nurses that were volunteering at the hospital that were there to translate, play, and help us in any way. A small group of people were screened today too. One of Melanie's favorite children got surgery today, Joshua. She was so excited to see him in Pre-Op and then after his surgery too, There was a 72 year old man here to get surgery too. Many older patients got surgery today. We ate dinner at the hospital and headed back to the hotel at around 8:30.
We are heading to bed soon, it will be another fun and exciting day tomorrow to see all of the children and adults at the hospital awaiting surgery. I cannot even imagine how happy they are.
I learned more Tagalog:
Maganda Ka- You are beautiful
Ano ang pangalan mo? -What is your name?
Ano si...- My name is ...
Ma-hal ki-ta- I love you

-Mary Claire : )

Saturday, May 29, 2010



Yesterday, we arrived in Manila after about a fifteen and a half hour flight and got in at about 6:30 am Manila time. We stopped over in Guam for as a refuel stop. Our first day was the team bonding day. We ate at a seafood overlooking Manila Bay and then went to a museum. It was a religious museum that was connected to this really big church. There was a wedding going on when we visited the church. The food is soo good! I have tried a version of kare-kare and payasamda ham. It was all very tasty. It is very hot and humid but we are very lucky and stayed in an air conditioned hotel in Makati City and now in Pampanga too. After we went to the museum we went to the Mall of Asia- the largest mall in all of Asia. The sunset was so pretty over Manila Bay. For dinner, Melanie, Adrienne, and I had dinner with Adrienne's cousin at a place called Banana Leaf where we ate on banana leaves. It had all types of Asian dishes. Back to the hotel, we showered and quickly fell asleep.
Today, we drove to Pampanga from Makati City. We ate lunch at one of the in-country volunteers' houses. We had adobo chicken, rice, and a noodle dish. There were also many other traditional Filipino desserts like flan. After we went for a tour of the hospital and set up the screening room. There was a huge welcome sign for us and also it was advertising that we were coming. We then made it back to our hotel started to sort through all of the toys that we brought. Melanie brought over 1,000 toothbrushes! Tonight we had our welcome team dinner. It was in this backyard with these huge trees decorated with hanging lights. There were singers that performed traditional Filipino songs for us and the head of Operation Smile Philippines spoke to us. I tried rice in wrapped in a crepe and delicious coconut ice cream. The mangos here are the best I have ever tasted before.
Tomorrow we have our first day at the hospital for screening. Also, we are doing the Name Game tomorrow morning before we start the day.
I learned a few words in Tagalog: Salamat-Thank you, Oo- Yes, and Hindi- No.

Salamat for reading my blog! : )
Mary Claire

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On the Way!

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to "smile~ngiti"! Ngiti is smile in Filipino. I started this blog to keep all of you updated on my Operation Smile mission to Pampanga, Philippines. I leave today, May 26, and return back home on June 6. I want to say thank you to everyone that has helped me prepare for my mission-- my school, friends, and family! I could not have done it without you! I am so unbelievably excited and honored to be traveling on an Operation Smile Medical Mission. I fly from Orlando to LA to Manila with a refuel stop in Guam. 20 hours+ of traveling! Wow!
Here are a few facts about Pampanga: It is the culinary capital of the Philippines, I can't wait to try all of the yummy new foods. Pampanga is a province and the capital is the City of San Fernando. It is located north of Manila Bay. Pampanga is a new site for Operation Smile.

I am currently waiting in the Orlando airport for my flight to LA. Less than an hour till I board!

Talk to you all soon,
Mary Claire