I am now a resident of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Never thought that would be something that I would say, but somehow, I am here, sitting in my cozy apartment, snuggled up with my dog, and declaring it true.
To willfully choose to leave the place you love is very difficult. Consciously leaving my community of dearly loved friends and family was by far one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I really miss all of you.
So, you might be wondering what it is exactly that am I doing here? Last month I was offered a job as a program coordinator with Operation Smile, an organization that travels worldwide performing cleft lip and palate surgeries. Here is a bit more about the medical missions from the Operation Smile website:
“Operation Smile conducts approximately 150 medical missions each year. Over the last two-and-a-half decades, they’ve developed a highly-efficient and patient-focused process for screening and treating hundreds of children during each mission. On a typical international medical mission, 300-500 children receive full medical evaluations and 100-150 children are surgically treated. A volunteer team of up to 60 credentialed medical professionals (surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, pediatricians, dentists and others) from around the world travel to the partner country where the mission will take place. Our teams are organized with both in-country and international volunteers and include interpreters and two high school students who completed Operation Smile’s Mission Training Program.”
Program coordinators are responsible for making sure missions run smoothly from start to finish. It starts with recruiting volunteers, getting all their documents and visa in order, coordinating their travel, and then arriving in-country and setting up the medical mission site. Once the medical mission is underway, we are responsible for ensuring all of the needs of the patients, their families and the medical volunteers are met. After the mission, we report and track all aspects of the medical mission, patient records, medical outcomes and logistical details that will later help to plan future medical missions in that country.
One of the aspects of this that I am most enamored by is the fact more than 60% of the children are treated through local missions where teams of predominantly in-country medical volunteers are taking care of local children using Operation Smile techniques and training.
When there is a need for international volunteers, the Program Coordinator will work with the in-country Foundation and regional representatives to determine which volunteer positions can be filled locally and regionally, and which positions need to be recruited from other parts of the globe. (operationsmile.org)
This sustainable model of aid is very encouraging. Not only does it provide jobs and a livelihood to a number of people, but it is an example of how NGO’s can make an impact by creating a framework that allows for long-lasting, viable growth.
Last week, I was able to meet seven of these in-country Program Coordinators. They traveled from China, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Dominican Republic, Russia and India. It was a week filled with laughs, knowledge and spawned wonderful friendships. During the training we learned how to run a mission from start to finish. Each day was interrupted by “surprise and delight,” a tactic we are encouraged to use to keep morale high while on missions with volunteers. This included games, snacks, strange YouTube videos, and more. It was a wonderful way to get to know the current OSI staff and the international staff.
At the end of the week, the founders of Operation Smile hosted us at their house and we celebrated the end of training with a dinner and a dance party, and the announcement of our first two missions! My first two missions are to the following countries….
Chinandega, Nicaragua (Feb-March) and Mekele, Ethiopia (May)
I will update soon with photos and stories from missions.
I am so happy that I made the leap and that I am here. It’s going to be an adventure and I am so excited!!
Until next time,
PS: Thank you to my friends and family for being there for me through this transition! I couldn’t have done this without your support, encouragement and love!