I always looked up to my sister. In high school she was a member of the ‘Operation Smile’ Club. She was really active in the club and even organized a cleft palate surgery for a local kid because all the Operation Smile efforts were focused abroad.
When I entered high school she was a senior and basically made me join. In the club everyone got together to raise money and awareness for the Operation Smile work going on in other countries. By the time I was a junior I was basically running the show. I helped organize the fund raising activities: bake sales, donations and whatever else we needed to do to raise money. I also came up with the acronym ‘SMILE’ which stood for: ‘Students Making It A Little Easier.’
My senior year of high school I applied to go on an Operation Smile mission abroad but I was rejected. I was devastated because I had worked so hard for the club. I went to the teacher who was running the club, Mrs. Stockton, and I turned in my hat and said I was done. I was completely disillusioned. Granted I was being a brat, but it was also valid because everyone knew how much work I had done.
“I put my heart and soul into this for four years.” I said to Mrs. Stockton. “If they can’t see all the work I’ve done this isn’t the place for me.”
Mrs. Stockton persuaded me to stay. She had some pull in the organization and made a couple calls and wrote a couple letters and few weeks later I got accepted for a mission.
Originally I was slated to go the Gaza Strip. I knew it was dangerous but that sort of appealed to the mind of a seventeen year old boy.
My mother disagreed, “There is no way you’re going to the Gaza Strip.”
If Mom isn’t happy nobody is happy, so they relocated me to Peru. I was scheduled to travel to Peru in June – right in the middle of AP exams and a big swim competition – so some of my teachers and coaches tried to dissuade me from going. I was riddled with indecision but ultimately accepted the mission – I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I followed my passion. I felt I could offer myself and give my service to others. I wasn’t a church-goer, so this mission was honoring the part of me that wanted to help others.
I was sent to Lima, Peru. One of the things I saw during that mission was the intensity of the screening process. Parents brought their children from all over the country. Some traveled three days by boat. Some walked for days. People literally came out of the woodwork. On horseback, cows, whatever they had to do to get there.
The first day 300 people showed up. They queue outside the facility stretched for blocks. We worked from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM screening children as candidates for surgery. I was so touched when the volunteers packed everything up at 5:00 PM and then a family arrived and the volunteers unpacked everything and assessed the child. Then they packed everything again and another family arrived and they unpacked everything to assess that child. They had to, some families didn’t have the option of coming back the next day. The volunteers would work fourteen grueling hours. They were all incredible people.
The hospital rooms smelled horrific and kids would come out of surgery and completely disoriented and in pain. My primary responsibility was to educate the children on how to live healthier lives, but I also gave them stickers and blew bubbles and made balloons. Some of the kids with cleft palates couldn’t blow bubbles or balloons so they were mesmerized that I had this ability. Some of these kids were seen as demonic or bad omens. Their families were ashamed of them. Their lives were a living hell. They were in such pain, but I would blow bubbles and they’d just stare at them in awe.
It was so moving that for just a moment the kids could forget about their pain and the excruciating lifestyles they’d lived. To be able to blow a bubble, and have everything else drop away, it was just one of the most emotionally rewarding experiences of my life.
Goose Chronicles Outtakes:
“What child do you remember the most?”
“In Morocco one time a grandfather and grandson came in. Si Mohammad was the grandfather’s name and the grandson was Hamza. The grandfather was in his late sixties and the grandson was twelve. They both had cleft palates. The grandfather brought his grandson because he didn’t want him to live the difficult life that he had lived. His grandfather told us that if only one of them could have the surgery to make sure it was his grandson. We operated on both of them.”
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