Smiles in Colombia
Trip Start Sep 15, 2010
29Trip End Jul 23, 2011
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The first was attending a work conference in a part of the country that few foreign tourists visit. This event was the first of its kind and trained medical professionals and parents with the skills needed to care for a child after surgery. This is critical because most children born with cleft palate or cleft lip require years of post-operative speech therapy and/or psychological treatment. Yet access to this care can be extremely difficult in rural areas with limited or no medical service.
Due to major bus delays I was only able to attend the final three hours of the conference. Nonetheless, I helped out as the unofficial camerawoman and was inspired to see the team in action
Once the conference concluded I took a week off to explore the northern Caribean coastline. I was in the tiny fishing village/backpacker hangout of Taganga for no more than two hours when I was invited to join a party on an old sailing ship anchored just off the beach. I said sure, threw on my bikini and spent the next three days swimming, sunning and dancing. The captain, Yan, was a great guy who had sailed all the way from his home in Norway, down to the coast of Africa and across the Atlantic. Later that week, a lovely Belgian girl and myself joined him and his friends as they sailed further west to the historic city of Cartagena.
Now what might strike you as a glamorous sailing getaway, wasn't quite so. That's because we were racing against time as a hurricane from Panama approached from the opposite direction
The final highlight of my trip strikes a more personal note. During my last few weeks volunteering with Operation Smile I had the opportunity to observe a surgery in person. It was the third operation for an eight year old boy born with cleft palate and cleft lip.
After changing into scrubs and donning a face mask, I entered the room just in time to see the nurse tape the boy's eyes shut and cover his face with yellow antiseptic cream. Then I watched completely fascinated (and slightly nauseated) as the surgeons sliced and sewed the roof of his mouth back together again.
As I stood there, I had a hard time believing that like this little boy, I too, was once on the operating table. That's because, like him, I was born with cleft palate
So as the tubes sucked and the machines beeped, I had to remind myself to breathe. Not only because it was incredible to witness the miracle of modern medicine, but also because I was overwhelmed with gratitude. With a deep appreciation for the generosity of others, I will always have a reason to smile.