Skip to main content

From the Field Peru

Beyond Surgery: Inspiring Moments with Operation Smile in Peru

From the Field Peru

Beyond Surgery: Inspiring Moments with Operation Smile in Peru

Operation Smile Staff Member Katherine Zeveleva shares her experience at a recent surgical program. 

“Absolutely mind-expanding” is how medical volunteer Dina Moscowitz described her experience on surgical programs to me. That is exactly how I felt when I participated in the surgical program in Peru. 

As a program strategy writer at Operation Smile, I had the privilege of joining a surgical program in Lima, Peru, from May 17 to May 24. The program was hosted by our longstanding partner, Hospital Nacional Daniel Alcides Carrion. 

I was able to learn more about the patients and families who were arriving at the hospital for screening day. The geography in Peru presents unique barriers, with many families traveling for hours from mountainous regions, but Operation Smile Peru covers travel costs for many patients and provides shelters for those who travel from afar. 

Katherine plays with children on screening day.

Teams of volunteers, including plastic surgeons, nutritionists and anesthesiologists, carefully provided comprehensive health screenings to around 130 patients to determine if they are healthy enough to undergo anesthesia and surgery. One volunteer told me that patients living in high altitudes in Peru often have low hemoglobin, which is why Operation Smile’s nutrition program plays a crucial role in preparing them for surgery.  

Each group of medical specialists had its own tent within the hospital's courtyard, where patients and their families were guided between the tents by nonmedical volunteers. Families enjoyed a variety of entertainment while waiting in line, including bubbles, clowns and toys. Volunteers from Colgate, one of Operation Smile’s longstanding partners, organized performances and games with tooth care prizes.  

I had the pleasure of meeting Dina Moskowitz, an Operation Smile volunteer and retired lawyer from New York who relocated to Peru six years ago. She discovered Operation Smile through her sister-in-law, also a dedicated volunteer. I watched Dina tirelessly keep the evaluation line of patients moving, skillfully problem-solving and sharing jokes with patients and their families in Spanish, putting them at ease. “Volunteering for Operation Smile has literally changed my life. It has opened my heart and my mind,” Dina shared with me. 

During the five surgery days, approximately 80 patients underwent life-changing procedures.  It was moving to witness patients waking up after surgery to the embrace of their parents, who sometimes shed tears of joy. 

Corporate volunteers create superhero capes for children.

Before surgery, the patients were in for a delightful surprise. Colgate sent corporate volunteers to the hospital to create handmade superhero capes. These capes were draped over the children, and many of them gleefully ran through the hallways, feeling empowered by their newfound "superpowers." This thoughtful gesture aimed to ease their nerves before surgery and instill a sense of strength and courage.

Trainee Dr. Atenas Bustamante (right) operates alongside Dr. Magdalena Soldanska

Lizet Campos, regional director at Operation Smile, shared with me that every operating table serves as an educational table. The surgical program was simultaneously a Champion Program, offering valuable learning opportunities for medical trainees. I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Atenas Bustamante, a plastic surgeon based in Arequipa, Peru, who is participating in Operation Smile’s Cleft Surgery Training Program (CSTP). Once she completes the CSTP program, she will be fully equipped to provide essential cleft care services to her community in Arequipa. During surgery days, I witnessed  Bustamante perform surgery under the guidance of experienced surgical volunteers. Observing volunteers and trainees conducting surgeries filled me with awe as I witnessed the expertise of the medical team in action. 

In Peru, I saw how Operation Smile's impact extends far beyond the operating room, transforming not just individual lives, but entire families. Ana Paula Carbajal, a 22-year-old nonmedical volunteer, shared with me her personal journey: She underwent cleft palate surgery with Operation Smile when she was just 2 years old. Inspired by her daughter's experience, her mother, Patty, was determined to give back to Operation Smile and has been volunteering ever since. I had the pleasure of meeting Patty, who was volunteering in medical records. Many of the photos you see here were taken by Carbajal, who is studying photography. 

The story of Ana Paula and Patty exemplifies the beautiful cycle of compassion and generosity fostered by Operation Smile. Their shared journey, from Ana Paula's transformative surgery to the mother and daughter’s unwavering dedication as volunteers, is a testament to the power of love and leadership. 


It takes as little as $240 and as few as 45 minutes to provide life-changing surgery and a bright, beautiful new smile to a waiting child.