Operation Smile is a charity organization for children – donate non profit
Operation Smile is a charity organization for children – donate non profit

January 7, 2015

"I Wasn't Expecting That News"

Malcom Elavia, Corporate Donor Volunteer

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It is the initial screening day of our medical mission in Guatemala Citywhen I noticed a shy 8-year-old girl, Palisha, who wasn't really playing with the other kids. I tried to get her involved and sat down with her to learn that we couldn't communicate vocally due to a language barrier, but we definitely knew the universal language of how to play and have fun.

After a few minutes of playing, Palisha began to open up and her fun, life-loving personality came out. I quickly formed a bond with her and her father and I found myself just as eager as them to see if she would be able to receive surgery on her cleft palate.

But unfortnately, at the end of the day, her father brought her to me to say goodbye. That's when I found out Palisha wouldn't get surgery this time. There was just too many patients, 204 were screened and 99 received life-changing surgery. For Palisha, we didn't have the means to give her the help she needed on this medical mission.

I wasn't expecting that news. I know Operation Smile helps all the children they can, but to hear this made me feel so bad I was at a loss of words. Palisha's father saw my emotion and started cheering me up.

Her father, with Palisha wearing a sweet smile by his side, kept warmly saying, "No it’s OK. It’s OK. We'll be back next year and it will all be good - no worries. No worries, everything will be fine."

In that moment, our roles switched, and he was the one making me feel comfortable and at ease. If that wasn't enough, they traveled all the way back to the hospital and searched for me to say goodbye at the end of the medical mission week. They even gave me a present - a snow globe that Palisha had made using the stickers I gave her during screenind day with a picture of us that her father took at the screening. 

My eyes began to tear and my heart started to race. All I could think was, "Malcolm, hold it together in front of her!" 

She gave me a huge hug and we said our last goodbyes. Before they left, they coordinated with the team there to make sure they'll be able to come back next year for surgery. This experience with Palisha and her father gave me a glimpse of what each of the team members of Operation Smile in Guatemala do daily for patients and their families.

That is why Operation Smile exists, to allow children to live a happy, normal, healthy life. Sadly, due to affordability, that turns out to be a privilege sometimes, when it shouldn’t be. Access to safe and timely healthcare is a basic right, and the team at Operation Smile helps make that possible.

I knew that this medical mission would allow me to impact the lives of others as well as have an impact on my life. I had no clue that it would make me feel more alive than I ever have before. With the deepest gratitude, I am truly honored to had this opportunity to work with Operation Smile. I will never forget this experience.  

Malcom Elavia, president of Fire, Inc., had an opportunity to experience a medical mission as a Cydcor corporate donor volunteer. 

Tags:   Our Blog, Volunteer Stories, From the Field, Donor Stories, Patient Stories, Latin America & Caribbean