April 3, 2015
Daniela Tres, Operation Smile Student Volunteer
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Volunteering with Operation Smile has made me a different person. My experience began four years ago during Operation Smile’s first medical mission in Guatemala. Since then, I consider myself part of the Operation Smile family, part of a team of medical and non-medical volunteers who aim to change lives around the world.
My experience began when my older sister signed up as a volunteer for the inaugural medical mission in Guatemala City. My sister came home talking about the amazing time she had at the hospital, and she asked me if I wanted to come along. At first I wasn’t interested, but then she convinced me. The first day I went to the mission, I thought it was amazing. I met new people and shared so many smiles that my cheeks ached! The second day, I met a 3-year-old girl named Yoselin. I remember playing with her all day – she loved having her picture taken, and she also enjoyed taking pictures. We played with stuffed animals, we played ball, and we laughed and had a great time. I came to learn later that play therapy before surgery is a key part of Operation Smile medical missions. I even taught Yoselin to say my name. At first she found it difficult, but soon then she was playfully saying, “Dani!”
When Yoselin’s name was called for surgery, she started crying. Like most children, Yoselin didn’t want to stop playing and go back to a place that was unfamiliar to her. I could tell from Yoselin’s mother’s face that she was worried – worried about surgery and worried about waiting for her daughter to come out of surgery. Her mother cried almost the entire time Yoselin was in the operating room.
The next morning, I ran to the hospital to see Yoselin and her mom before they left that morning, and I arrived just in time. I wrote a letter to Yoselin, telling her and her mom how much I appreciated meeting them, and how Yoselin made me realize that a simple smile can change many lives. Her laugh and her innocence definitely changed my life. It was the last day of the mission, and I felt like a different person. I felt full, and it was all because of Yoselin and the other patients at the medical mission. She taught me that nothing can take away happiness, and she taught me to smile, even when it’s hard.
After the mission, I stayed in contact with Yoselin and her family. Yoselin would say on the phone, “Te quiero mucho Dani” (“I love you Dani”). Knowing how much I meant to Yoselin has been one of the best feelings ever. For Christmas that year, Yoselin called to wish me a Merry Christmas. I’ll never forget the feeling of receiving that call - it was the best present anyone could’ve given me.
After my first mission, I decided that I wanted to help and be part of Operation Smile even more. I started raising money through different activities and meetings at school. I met new friends, and we all looked forward to helping Operation Smile through our activities together. I couldn’t keep my mind on anything else.
When I became a volunteer four years ago, I also started looking at the world from a new angle. Being a volunteer at Operation Smile is a different and new experience. It’s not only about helping others – it’s also about seeing a change within yourself. When a patient smiles, that’s when you know that you have no reason to frown. If they smile, then you can too! I think that being part of Operation Smile is like being part of a team or a family who shares the same dream – the dream to make others smile.
Tags: Our Blog, Student Stories, Patient Stories, Latin America & Caribbean, Guatemala