For the love of Operation Smile's 'little warriors'

Volunteer Story

Nurse Gloria Inamagua dances with a patient during a medical mission in Bolivia

Nurse Gloria Inamagua began volunteering with Operation Smile just four years ago, and in that time, she has already been on eleven medical missions and helped to change the lives of countless children. While serving as a nurse volunteer, Gloria has witnessed not only how Operation Smile medical missions can transform the lives of children through surgery, but also how they can have a lasting impact on the lives of the medical volunteers, including herself. Read on for a question- and answer-style interview with Gloria about her experience as an Operation Smile volunteer.

What inspired you to volunteer with Operation Smile?

Even though Operation Smile has a presence in dozens of countries around the world, I wasn’t aware of the organization or its work until a few years ago.  In September 2011, I was introduced to someone who was familiar with Operation Smile and she told me about volunteer opportunities with the organization. Operation Smile came into my life at a perfect time during of my nursing career and my personal life. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and that my involvement with Operation Smile at that time was no coincidence.

What inspires me to continue volunteering with Operation Smile is the immense and unique love shared by my fellow volunteers, our patients and their families. I am so blessed to be a part of the miracles that take place on the medical missions. My life feels fulfilled every time I see the new smiles of children I have cared for and adults with a renewed sense of confidence after having their clefts repaired. These experiences encourage me to continue providing the best quality care possible to Operation Smile’s patients. 

Why do you do what you do?

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live” is a quote that I live by. In my life, nursing was the door that I chose because it was the best fit for me professionally and personally. I have been a nurse for six years and each day I am driven by a desire to help people and care for them in times of need.

Why do you feel the responsibility to take care of these children?

All children are special and have an immense capacity to love. They also have the right to be loved in return. They are little warriors who fight to survive no matter what. Children have the right to grow, play, study, and be happy. They are full of energy and positivity. I am continually inspired by children who overcome overwhelming obstacles. Personally, taking care of children is not just a responsibility, it is a privilege. Children are our future, so I feel that it is my job to protect and care for them in the way they deserve.

Is there a particular moment or patient from a medical mission that will stay with you forever?

Every medical mission I have participated in is special in its own way; however, one medical mission in St. Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico will always hold a special place in my heart. During the first day of screening, I was greeted with a hug by a little boy named David. My heart melted immediately. When I learned that he was chosen for surgery, I was overcome with joy. The first thing David did when he was getting prepared for surgery was to come look for me. When he finally spotted me, he came running and gave me the biggest hug. He is very shy and didn’t say much, but his smile was enough for me. This was the fourth day of surgery during the medical mission, and while I was feeling exhausted, his hug made all the long hours of work worth it. In that moment, I realized how fortunate I am to be part of such an important moment in his life. After David’s surgery, I was able to check up on him and once again, I received a big hug. It was truly a humbling experience. For many, David’s hugs might just be simple acts of affection, but for me, they were the best gifts I could ever receive.  

Why is early surgical care a critical need?

Early surgical care is necessary and ideal. Cleft conditions can cause many infants to have problems with swallowing, especially the infants with cleft palates. Babies with cleft palates often have difficulty generating suction with their mouths. They can end up malnourished and be susceptible to chronic ear infections. By repairing this congenital defect as soon as possible, babies born with cleft conditions are more likely to develop normal speech, language, and hearing. Early surgery will also optimize their psychosocial and psychological outcomes as they grow older.

If Operation Smile didn’t exist in your country/places you have worked, what would those patients do? 

I cannot even begin to describe the positive impact Operation Smile has had on hundreds of thousands children around the world. Operation Smile has brought together thousands of amazing individuals who are dedicated to changing the lives of children. If Operation Smile didn’t exist, many children born with cleft conditions and other craniofacial deformities would have died very young, and the ones who survived would most likely continue to suffer physically and mentally. They would not have had the chance to experience life. These children might have missed out on the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. Mother Teresa once said, “We cannot do great things. We can only do little things with great love.” I know there is still so much work to be done and many more children with cleft conditions around the world in need of care, but I have no doubt that Operation Smile will continue to provide the safest and highest quality care for children because of the love and passion that everyone affiliated with the organization has for helping children.

I know there is still so much work to be done and many more children with cleft conditions around the world in need of care, but I have no doubt that Operation Smile will continue to provide the safest and highest quality care for children because of the love and passion that everyone affiliated with the organization has for helping children.

How has volunteering with Operation Smile impacted you professionally and personally?

In September 2012, I went on my first Operation Smile medical mission to the Dominican Republic. It was an incredible experience to be part of a team composed of people who shared my passion for changing lives. The laughs, smiles, memories, tears, and gratefulness shared by the volunteers, families, and children during this medical mission are something that will stay with me forever and will continue to shape my life. In fact, serving as an Operation Smile volunteer was such a transformative experience that it actually inspired me to make some changes in my professional life. Prior to volunteering with Operation Smile, I had been working as a nurse for adults. After returning from the Dominican Republic, I took a job in a pediatric cardiac intensive care unit. Three years later, I feel so blessed to have a fulfilling career in pediatric nursing and to be able to continue volunteering with Operation Smile.