Thursday, July 29, 2010
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 :)