Student Volunteer: Tara George
School: NIST (New International School of Thailand)
Mission: Ubon Ratchatani, 2012
I think that it is wonderful what can be achieved in 45 minutes; cooking a meal, learning how to dance, writing a story. But I never thought how just 45 small minutes in a single, ordinary day, could change someone’s life;forever.
Although I have been in the Operation Smile Club at my school for over a year, I have never encountered a child with a cleft lip so I knew once I stepped into the hospital doors, I was going to be shocked and stunned at the conditions of these children. But the exact opposite happened. The minute the first few children came into the check-up room, I felt excited and extremely happy. I saw all these small faces and in the moment, realized how much my contribution would help these children and make a change.
During the first day, I made so many friends; I became close to them and they became attached to me. In the first few moments, I could sense the fear and anxiety some of these children carried; this is when I decided I would also change. I would get out of my comfort zone of letting others approach me and be the change I knew I could be.
All day, as children moved in and out of the check-up area, I would approached as many as I could, smiling as much as I could and try to get them off their feet to play which will hopefully take their worries away. In just a few hours, I have met with over 50 children including their parents and siblings whom I also talk to as I know they are also going through a tough time mentally. I had such joy playing with the children just as they are; normal, ordinary children.
Neem (นีม) is a boy I will always remember. I met Neem on the first day of my volunteering; he had a cleft palate and could not pronounce words properly. I had an amazing time with him as I taught him how to juggle, I played all sorts of games with him and I also met his whole family. I met his mother, father, younger brother, grandma and grandpa who were all extremely happy and loved talking to me. I didn’t see him on the second day and was disappointed. But on the last day, I saw him and his whole family again who were all by his bed waiting for his surgery the next day. The support he had from his family really showed me how much support from volunteers could help other children too. I really felt that I bonded with him and helped him through this whole experience.
The experience of going into surgery was amazing. Just like the tv-shows that I watch, I got to wear scrubs and masks and be professional. I never thought I would ever get to experience what it was like off the surgery table and see what happens during the whole surgery. I have learnt so many new things as the surgeons, anaesthesiologists and nurses all helped explain the processes of surgery. Getting to watch the actual surgery was just incredible. Knowing that after this short 45 minutes, that child’s life will be changed. The fact that I got to witness this life-changing 45 minutes of their life that they won’t even remember, and to recognize some children on the table from playing with them, was extraordinary.
Another moment that I would never forget is on my last day. As I was giving out toys and playing with children, I gave a blue teddy bear to a little baby, only months old, which had just come out of surgery. She was in her mother’s arms was sleeping so peacefully. Her mother then out-of-the-blue said to me in a trembling voice; “thank you and thank your organization. Although my daughter’s lips are still scarred with stitches and is not yet healed; she already looks so much better. I am so happy for what you have done. Thank you so much.” As a weekend volunteer, someone I thought so meaningless, receiving such gratitude, I was heartfelt. It was then that I knew that I did make a difference; in more than one person’s life. It is not only the child who benefits from these operations, but also the parents who have gone through so much mentally and will probably go through more.
A smile is contagious; it will keep spreading from person to person until the ends of the earth. A simple gesture, such as a smile can change a person’s day. ‘Changing lives, one smile at a time’ is a phrase which could represent the work that Operation Smile has done, but can also be used as a simple day to day gesture which could, change lives.
Knowing that I have made a difference, no matter how big or small, in just one child’s life, means so much to me. Not only did I make a difference in someone’s life, but that person has also made a difference in mine. Although short, this trip is definitely significant and has helped me become someone better. As a senior in high school, I hope to take this experience with me to university and help spread this contagious smile and hopefully participate in many more missions. Operation Smile has given me an opportunity I will never forget.
Tara George – New International School of Thailand (NIST) – Mission in Ubon Rachatani 19-22 September 2012
Me and Neem