The entire two weeks that we were at the hospital I wandered around the different hospital wards with a giant smile stretched from cheek to cheek, greeting everyone that looked my way with kindness. My smile was able to break down the language barrier and coerce smiles out of the numerous people that simply locked eyes with me. It created trust between me and the patients, calmed the nerves of worried parents and children, and is a profoundly powerful tool in non-verbal communication, which comprises two thirds of all communication.
By the end of the first week my cheeks actually hurt from the smile that was constantly plastered on my face - it pointed out what a necessity a smile truly is. Working in the hospital made me realize how much a smile really means, the priceless value of a warm kind grin. It made me realize the importance of the gift we were giving to these patients, and how much they must have struggled this far.
The surgeries that we provided these past two weeks are more than just cosmetic alterations. They are deeply entwined with the individuals social experience, self esteem and self worth. We have actively freed them from the social stigma that has plagued their life since birth. We have further opened the door for opportunity in their lives. We have provided them with an invaluable tool, crucial to the human experience.
It may be hard to believe, but the relationship between patients and volunteers is purely mutualistic. The volunteers get just as much out of the mission as the patients do. Before the mission numerous people told me that the trip would be life changing. To be honest I was skeptical, now that we have returned I would have to agree that the mission was life changing. Its the simple smile and hug that the patients give you throughout the two weeks of the mission and the thought of the opportunities that smile will bring them throughout their lives, that lets you know that your hard work has paid off.
The only way that you can truly understand the feeling that I am describing is by going on a mission, to find out for yourself.
My smile made my 2 week experience in Guatemala profoundly more meaningful, I cannot even fathom the impact of the new 119 smiles created over the last two weeks. Thank you so much to all who made this mission possible - the patients and their parents, volunteers, local/host Rotarians, the hospital, the Rotaplast Office, and the numerous others.
It was a touching experience that will turn into a powerful memory - one that will always bring a smile to my face.
-Daniel DeSanto, Photojournalist