For the last ten years, Close To My Heart has partnered with Operation Smile™ in an effort to bring children around the world healthy smiles. Operation Smile™ is an international medical charity that provides free surgeries to children and young adults in developing countries who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other dental and facial conditions. It is one of the oldest and largest volunteer-based organizations dedicated to improving the health and lives of children worldwide through access to surgical care.
On October 11, 2018, a few of our Close To My Heart Consultants embarked on what was to become an experience of a lifetime. We traveled for 20+ hours to arrive in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where we were immediately given instructions and put to work. After many long days in hot, humid, and very humbling conditions, all of us would gladly do it all over again!
Here is my story:
The time I spent hugging babies and children was priceless. I don’t have the opportunity to rock little ones very often, so it was a great joy for me to relieve a mama’s arms. Some of those people had long trips to the hospital and had been waiting and holding their babies for hours. I met a very special little boy, Ian Lucas. He was 6 months old at that time, and his mama showed me that day what strength and character are. She had been at the hospital since early morning, and she carried him, all his blankets, diaper bags, and coats. All the children had to go through ten different areas for screening, and I followed Ian through those areas. Much of the time I couldn’t understand what was being said, but thanks to Monica and Google translate, we were able to talk a little bit. The ten areas helped determine whether they were able to have surgery, and I was so happy to hear he was healthy and had been chosen! On surgery day, I was able to sit with Ian and Mama during nutritional counseling and pre-surgery. This was a very hard time for Mama, and I am so glad it reassured her knowing I would be in surgery with Lucas. What an incredible experience! To be able to stand next to the surgeons as they performed this life-changing surgery was not only miraculous, but it was humbling. These doctors, nurses, and all the supporting staff are volunteers and they worked tirelessly to care for all of the children. On the day we went home, the sun was rising over Santa Cruz, and I found myself contemplating all that we had experienced. I knew that this experience changed me and the way I think about things. I think the thing I learned that was most valuable is to always be ready with a smile. That sounds simple, but it is powerful. Mother Teresa said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” Even when their smiles weren’t perfect, these children showed so much love and shared so many smiles. They spread goodness. Our smiles are so precious, and we need to share them freely.