21 July 2015
Kim Meighan Svay Rieng
A smile transcends all countries, languages and cultures. To share a smile you share a connection with a stranger or a friend. In Svay Rieng, Cambodia, where very few people spoke English, a smile was a language spoken and used by all. Shared with our beautiful patients, their loving families, our fellow volunteers, local staff or the welcoming community; a smile really can speak a thousand words. That’s, in essence, why it was such a pleasure and a privilege to help provide 77 new smiles to the people of Cambodia.
Svay Rieng was chosen for our mission site after the devastating story of baby ‘Lucky’ surfaced. A baby girl born with a cleft lip, who was buried alive by her father soon after birth. He believed her to be a devil child because of her facial deformity. Astonishingly, baby Lucky was rescued and is alive and well. Operation Smile Cambodia will provide her free surgery when she is old enough. It was obvious from this story and throughout our mission that education about clefts would be of huge benefit to the province.
We also met a young boy whose number was ‘007’ so everyone affectionately called him ‘Bond’. He was 5 years old and terrified of everyone who came near him. His attentive and grateful mum admitted he had been kept inside his entire young life, due to his cleft lip. The only people he had ever seen were his immediate family members. His challenging behaviour was so understandable.
Working night shifts for this mission was a first time for me. I would never say that volunteering for a mission is easy, but our job as night nurses was certainly made easier by the competent day team! We also had the assistance of Brian, a new friend, who is a Cambodian medical student and our translator - who we would have been lost without! Limited beds meant we had to double up on the few we had and sometime had four people (with family) sleeping on the one bed. Most of the kids slept well and there wasn’t any major issues. Their patient and grateful parents often didn’t though. People attempted to sleep anywhere they could - which sometimes made getting to the kids challenging!
The Operation Smile Australia and Operation Smile Cambodia Friendship Mission to Svay Rieng was a huge success and was true to our cause. We provided surgery to those that needed it, educated staff, patients, parents and the community. So many new friendships were discovered with fellow volunteers from Cambodia, Australia, India and the USA. Lots of fun was had and memorable moments shared too; like our sole American on the team, Glenn, who shaved his 32 year old moustache and head, and Abhishek, shaving his beard and moustache, after the team raised $500 for Operation Smile Cambodia.
To share a smile with someone is special, to give the gift of a smile is the most amazing feeling in the world!
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