Well as many of you know I am a child life specialist by profession, which means doing psychological preparation & therapeutic play with children in hospital settings. My absolute favorite thing that comes with that is being able to do medical missions for Operation Smile. (You can read more and see pictures here from some of my travels to Kenya, Philippines, Siberia, Morocco.) I have done many missions in post, mostly before having kids, but this year with no "little" babies I decided it was time to dust off the suitcase and expedite the passport for another adventure.
Going on medical missions profoundly changed me. It has changed my sense of place in the world and the way I use my resource and for this I am always grateful. As it looks now, I be spending 10 days in Amman, Jordan this year on another medical mission. So I am madly mentally preparing and will soon be literally packing a playroom in a suitcase. I am actually really excited to do this as a mom because this time my kids can be involved in the preparation and the service (even though they won't be able to go with me) I am excited to go and bring back pictures to my boys and show them how the things they sent helped others.
My job is to oversee the psychological, emotional and devolpmental needs of all the patients. Screening usually take a few days. Many children wait in line all day with hundreds or thousands of people just to be screened for surgery. (As I can attest merely standing in line for 10 minutes with my boys at the post office can be rather harrowing- let alone a good 5 hours!) Then the day of surgery, they spend the day in the playroom, NPO, waiting for their turn. I have all ages from babies 6 mo or so all the way up to teenagers. Many of these children are very anxious especially in an environment surrounded by strangers. The play and teaching about the surgery goes along way to alleviate anxiety and make the experience a positive one for them. We use play to provide a developmentally support environment, to provide distraction/alternative focus during stressful times and procedures, to help children understand in a developmentally approrpaite way what will be happening to them, and it breaks the language barriers as the teams are very international and we require interpreters for communication. For many of these children having facial deformities and visible differences has made them the object of teasing or shame.
You can support Operation Smile in many ways.[And if anyone would like to donate any supplies I do have a "wishlist" of things (as do CCLS for the many missions OpSmile does all year- we bring all our own stuff- I can you link you up with others you ever want to help) that are always welcome and really appreciated on missions (mini Slinky's, puppets, finger puppets, bubble wand necklaces, water tubes, doctor kits, stickers, mini suction cup ball hoops, jenga, to name a few). Being limited by space and weight makes it challenging. (I also have a few small projects kids/families can make if you are looking for a service project (beading kits, cutting strips for paper chains, etc) Please feel free to contact me email is on my profile page]