Student Volunteer: Elisa Ward
School: NIST International School Bangkok
Mission: Mae Sot Medical Mission
Period: November 3rd - 5th, 2015
Since I learnt about service for the first time, I have committed myself to helping causes of numerous different service groups but I have to say that going on the Operation Smile mission trip has taught me not only a lot about the issue, but also changed my perspective about the people who are victim of this.
I was always very interested in taking part on this Mae Sot mission since I have never met a child with cleft lip or cleft palate before, nevertheless had the opportunity to truly understand what people were going through in order to get these surgeries. I learnt that cleft lip and cleft palate are not only a local issue in Thailand, but also all over the world, and you don’t notice how common they can be as the people I am surrounded with in the NIST community are fortunate enough to request medical care whenever they want.
We first visited the hospital site in which the surgeries were happening, we got informed that the majority of the patients were Burmese refugees who annually walk down from the Thai-Burmese border during the time Operation Smile is in town. I met a girl who came all by herself to the medical mission site in order to get her cleft surgery done whilst her parents stayed in the refugee camps. Another family said they had to come for the third time as their child was sick the year before and came on foot since they could not afford the transport here. Nevertheless, they would not let their circumstances bring them down in life or take their opportunities at getting what they wish for, this was truly an inspiring sight to see.
Student volunteers’ hospital visits would last around 5 hours at a time, in which we were able to visit the operating theaters as well as visit the patients before and after their surgeries. Being in the OR next to a child with whom I’ve been playing balloons with for the past hour was truly a shocking experience. I thought I would be terrified the moment I saw the children being treated, however, I was stuck in awe at the talent by the doctors who were literally changing someone’s life before my eyes. It was then I knew that I could never understand what it feels like to have your child undergo 45 minutes of surgery and finally see all their wishes come true.
Before this trip, I had a deep sympathy towards less fortunate children who live their whole lives with cleft lips, however, I now have a greater understanding about the impact we as a service group have in changing people’s lives. It was an honor to make sure the children felt comfortable throughout the whole process and even more amazing to see the courage and never receding joy in their faces.
I’m glad to have had the unique opportunity of not only making a positive difference but directly seeing the repercussions that follow all the fundraisers and awareness we raise in our school community. I would whole-heartedly encourage anyone who is interested in this trip to partake in this once in a lifetime experience. For it will be one you’ll never forget.