October 28, 2014
Nancy Duncan, Operation Smile Staff
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I was in Ethiopia on Mother’s Day, half a world away from home and my three children. But it was in Ethiopia that I found the meaning of motherhood through the bond that unites all mothers.
As I looked around at these parents who travelled far and wide, I realized we’re really not all that different. These parents would do anything to create a better life for their child. I really understood it. All of us want that for our children.
I expected Ethiopia to be drastically different from anything I've ever been familiar with. While my senses of sight, sound and smell were all experiencing new things, what my heart was experiencing made me feel at home.
On the busy screening day of the Operation Smile medical mission, I spotted countless mothers doing the “Mommy Bounce.” If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about. It’s something moms do without even thinking about it, to calm and soothe their babies. These moms were so proud of their little ones, eager to have attention shown to their child. Their overwhelming care and concern for their children was something that touched my heart and made me think about my kids.
On that day, I met energetic 3-year-old Eugene. His mom was trying to reign in her lively boy while filling out paperwork. I jumped in to help by distracting Eugene with a pinwheel. We couldn’t communicate, but his mother’s look told me how grateful she was for the help. I stayed with them throughout the screening process. When Eugene had his blood drawn, there was that familiar two seconds of silence before he realized what was happening and then a giant scream. Mom soothed her sweet little guy just like I remember cradling my children at the doctor's office.
I was thrilled to find that Eugene was a candidate for surgery. Any mother who has ever handed her child to someone for surgery knows how slowly the time goes by before you hold your baby again. I was fortunate enough to be in the recovery room when Eugene’s mom was able to see her child for the first time after surgery. She cuddled him immediately, looking to see that her baby was really OK. His face was really secondary to her at that moment. She just needed to hold him.
The next day I visited Eugene to check in on him and he was back to being that very energetic boy. Eugene’s mom came up to me and grabbed my hands to show her thanks. It may have appeared as a small gesture, but it was huge. We may not have understood each other’s language, but no words were necessary to understand her gratitude for son's surgery and her son's new chance to lead a life with dignity all because he recieved early surgical care.
I learned so much on that medical mission. As the Human Resources Director for Operation Smile, I now know exactly what it takes for our staff to execute a successful surgical mission in the field. I was amazed at the dedication and hard work of our volunteers. They spend their vacations from their “real jobs” working 12-hour days in less than ideal conditions, all to help a child who they might never see again and always with a smile and serving heart.
This opportunity opened up my mind and my heart to the great need that still exists. So many more children like Eugene are waiting for a chance at their new life. They may not be my children, but as a mother, I will always consider them part of my family.
Tags: Our Blog, From the Field, Our Team, Patient Stories, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Ethiopia