November 5, 2014
Kylie Ryan , U-Voice Student Volunteer
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A young, timid boy smiles at me through a crowd of bubbles and crying babies. It is our first day of screening here in Ethiopia and the scene is hectic.
The patients must see a range of different doctors through different stations before they can be cleared and scheduled for cleft lip or cleft palate surgery later in the week. This process can be stressful for anyone, let alone young children who have never seen a doctor before or even a doctor who spoke their language.
In the middle of this crowd, I spotted a young boy who seemed to have it all together. He was not phased by our volunteer medical team. He even seemed excited, not scared, to be there. This young boy and I created a bond, smiling at each other whenever we crossed paths and even exchanging high fives from time to time.
I sat near him as the surgery schedule was announced at the shelter, I was nervous for him, but I didn't want to show it. When he heard his name, he turned to me and we shared yet another high five as he was put into a group for the first day of surgery.
I did not see him again until right before his surgery the next day. Even as the was about to go into surgery, this young boy was calm and collected, not worried at all. When I finally asked his name he told me he was Birhand from a rural village in Ethiopia. His mother, who is a farmer, had left the house in the hands of the other three children while she made the full day of travel with Birhand to the medical mission site.
Birhand told me he had been bullied by a lot of the kids back home and that the torments made him very angry. He would lash out at the younger kids by biting and chasing them, making sure they never made fun of him again. I could tell he wasn't proud of his reaction. He longed to fit in.
When I asked him if he knew why he was here, he excitedly pointed to his lip. He was incredibly excited to have a new smile and be free from all the teasing. At the end of our conversation Birhand and his mother both repeated “thank you, thank you,” over and over again in English.
In that moment I fully realized the impactful reach of Operation Smile and how our work, even as a student volunteer, can reach the hearts of so many. I was anxious as I walked through the post-operative ward the next morning, but the moment I caught a glimpse of Birhand it was just as before. I gave him a warm smile and wave as usual; he was still a little drowzy, but managed a wave and smile. Birhand looked amazing, his smile is going to be brighter than ever, and it is all thanks to the hard work and endless care from the Operation Smile volunteers and staff.
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