I have dimples, and was told that, technically speaking, they are considered as a congenital facial deformity - yet many people would pay hundreds and thousands to get a plastic surgery for that. One in every three minutes, a child is born with the facial deformity of cleft palate and cleft lip that would threaten their well being, chances of survival, and outcast them from society - yet many of them do not even have that USD240 dollars for a reconstructive, life changing surgery.
Sounds ironic? But this is the truth. And we never really realize how important is the ability to smile until we realize that there are people who don't have it. And this is the reason why I volunteer for Operation Smile - because it makes me realize how fortunate I am and not taking things for granted.
In the Operation Smile Kochi mission in April 2013, I was able to witness the touch of an angel that was bestowed upon all these kids.
During the screening day I was trying to entertain all the kids waiting for their turn to be screened, with toys and bubble soap. There was this particular girl who was everyone's favorite. She has cleft palate and cleft lip, but she is probably the happiest and bubbliest kid around. When we blow soap bubbles for her she will squeal in excitement and try to burst them.
When we passed her the bottle so that she can blow her own bubbles, she was struggling - and then it hit me. She could not blow any bubbles because of her cleft lip and palate. These kids cannot even perform simple tasks such as this, tasks that we normally do not even think about. This girl was operated on the 2nd day of surgery. When she left her lips were swollen from the trauma, but I believe when it heals, she will give everyone the most beautiful smile she has to offer.
Over the 5 days of surgery we conducted 64 surgeries to correct deformed lips, palates and fistula. But the mission is not only about that. It is really about 64 lives being changed, and 64 families finally enjoying a life without discrimination and judgement.
I was fortunate enough to really witness the whole process of this mission - from the screening to the surgery to post-operation recovery, and I am really pleased with the work that Operation Smile does. The surgeons are so skilled in their cutting and suturing that they literally perform miracles in 30 minutes. The anesthetics and post-operation doctors are all so dedicated and professional about their work even though they are not paid to be. It really inspired me as a medical student to be like them in the future.
A smile is the shortest distance between two people. A smile is a curve that sets everything straight. A smile is a universal language that is so infectious that it is like a mirror when you smile at other people. And I am really proud to be part of this team that changes lives, one smile at a time.
Many people have asked me: seems like you have been involved with Operation Smile for quite long? How much longer do you intend to volunteer for it?
For me, this is not about equality or justice, but I do feel that if it is something I can do so freely and beautifully with ease, others should have the same opportunity to do that too. Hence, my answer would be - till the day that I am unable to smile :)
(A reflection piece by one of our medical student volunteers, Terrence Hui)
(A piece of reflection by Reshvinder, one of our medical student volunteers)
(A piece of reflection by Yvonne Ng, one of our medical student volunteers)
(A piece of reflection by Michelle Chan, a young student volunteer)
(A reflection piece by Karen Oung, a student volunteer on the Operation Smile Singapore mission to Dhaka)
(Another reflection from Dhaka, this time from Pan Yunyi).
(When I got back from the Dhaka mission with Operation Smile Singapore I asked the student volunteers to write a short reflection on the mission. The questions were: "What was the most memorable moment of the mission for you? Why did this moment stand out?" This was written by Kristabella Low, our Operation Smile Singapore Student Chapter President)
On January 15th Operation Smile Singapore will be leading a mission to Dhaka in Bangladesh. I will be going on the mission as a photographer and student sponsor - for the first time we will be joined by a group of Singaporean students from our local student chapter.