THE LIFE OF A CHILD CHANGED FOREVER
Trip Start Feb 12, 2006
17Trip End May 12, 2008
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You may have heard the story of the starfish flinger...
As the old man walked the beach at dawn, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Finally catching up with the youth, he asked him why he was doing this.
The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun.
"But the beach goes on for miles and there are millions of starfish," countered the other. "How can your effort make any difference?"
The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves
"It made a difference to that one," he said.
I have always valued that story, but never knew that one day I might make a difference to one.
Living in a developing world we time and again encounter people with unimaginable deformities. I can clearly recollect so many disfigurations and deformities that are beyond belief, such a burden for the individual to carry through life. I try not to look too long but I am sure they are used to the shocked expression on others faces. The worst is to see a child with a facial deformity. A life unimaginable- certain to be a struggle, an outcast, laughed at by others or pointed at. Growing up in America such deformities seem to be nonexistent thanks to accessible and state-of-the-art medical care.
In our past year and a half living here in Madagascar we have frequently seen children with cleft lip/palate along the roads, in the markets and towns. It's heartbreaking- but what can we do? A few weeks ago our answer came. Operation Smile, an amazing team of dedicated and hard-working medical volunteers arrived in Tamatave and began "Changing Lives One Smile at a Time."
So, in the past few weeks, along with receiving a $7,000 grant from the U.S
Tuesday night, one by one, the parents hesitantly knocked on our gate, holding their child they came into our home and I explained the travel plans to them; we would travel over 300 km to the East Coast where life changing surgery might be performed. They were nervous, never having spent time away from their town and never traveled so far, yet they were eager to help their children. They had just arrived from the countryside, uncomfortable in my presence; their only question was regarding payment for transport. I ensured them all cost would be covered- they wouldn't need to pay anything.
Thursday morning we all arrived at the hospital in Tamatave, a place that became very familiar during the following week, to wait for the screening process. Everywhere there were potential patients- mothers with babies, boys, girls, teens, adults- people of all ages with facial deformities
Saturday we returned to the hospital to hear the names of those selected. A sick feeling swept over us as numbers were called out. The parents stared ahead, waiting to hear that one number. Finally three of ours were called in a row, the parents shouting out that they were present and rushing up through the crowd to enter the building, clenching their child's hand. The first day of patients had been called. Jon and Sandrine were still amongst the large crowd, my stomach was tied in knots. The atmosphere was tense, there were too many for all to be selected. Sandrine turned and watched from the crowd as her friend, Filipine, walked to the hospital with her green medical folder in hand, ready to receive pre-surgery instructions. I looked up at her father and his eyes were glassed over, his face stoic and stared straight ahead. I looked at Aaron and he had the same sickened look on his face, this was so intense, I could feel my body tighten, what if they are not chosen?! They started calling numbers again for Monday's surgeries, starting with low numbers..1,4,6, 12,.. then jumped to 90s and soon 100s. Sandrine was 116, Jon 118. Suddenly 116 was called out in French, they ran forward laughing, I sighed in relief and next was 118, my gaze affixed with Aaron's, both our eyes were glassy, filled with emotion and we laughed!
So over the following week our days were consumed at the hospital. Each morning, we'd wake early, walk to the hospital, check on "our kids", get them meals, talk with the families, help translate, and assist until evening
Aaron witnessed each child's operation and was with them when they fell asleep and woke up from the anesthesia. He watched as the parents were brought in to see their "new" child, their eyes affixed on their child, shocked expressions of joy and amazement.
As the kids recovered we took them to the markets to see the local products, goods and fruit of the sea- the men laughed in amazement at the squid and couldn't believe the size of the fish. We took the girls clothes shopping & quickly spoiled them. We visited the beach where they saw, touched and sat on horse for the first time, built sandcastles and watched the waves wash them away, buried Aaron in the sand and watched ships come into port. The men caught crabs in the sand and they all ran around giggling at the sight of this mysterious critter with a big pinching claw!
The kids healed quickly and stitches were dissolving, no longer did people stare in astonishment as we walked around in our group
Everyone was relieved when it was time to head home, they were anxious to get home to their families, to see their rice fields and breathe the country air. After hours and hours of riding, we started to wind through the mountain range that they call home. Men walking along the roads were carrying familiar tools, kids were wearing familiar dress, the trees were like those of home and the houses looked like theirs. The van erupted with laughter; they said they could smell Anosibe An'Ala. We arrived late in the evening; they all stayed in town and came to our house the next morning for final medical advice from us and goodbyes. We decided to accompany Filipine, Sandrine & their fathers back to their town about 7 km away.
Two hours later we approached their town, Andre looked out into the distance of a rice field, saw his wife and whistled to her. She began running through the paddies and fields with her infant son tied to her back. She looked at her daughter, smiled and was speechless. We went to their one room wooden house with thatched roof and it quickly filled with family and friends to see Sandrine and hear of her story. Aaron and I came in and sat on woven mats on the floor (the only furniture in the house was one bed.) Everyone was quiet and shy, just smiling and laughing.
On the way to Filipine's house we passed her new school. (the school had just opened the Sunday before the screening, the head of the schools was there and saw the 2 girls, the next day we were telling him about Operation Smile and he told us he had just seen 2 girls with cleft lip
In my past 30 years of life I can think of no greater reward, nothing that I have been a part of that has had such an impact on someone's life
Looking for a Christmas gift for someone? Give something that will make a real difference, consider donating to Operation Smile. This is just the story of 5 children; imagine if every child was able to experience such a miracle. www.worldjourneyofsmiles.org
Thank you to Westminster Bible Church and everyone else who is donating to cover the cost of this project.
Jenny & Aaron