I first heard of Operation Smile Thailand in 2011 through a good friend who also happens to be on the board of directors. Knowing that I had boxing experience, he initially asked me if I would be interested in looking at volunteering to help out for Operation Smile Thailand’s first “Fight Night!” fundraiser. I was introduced to Therese Beauvais, Secretary for OST board of directors, and after our meeting it was a “no brainer” for me, I was “in”; the compassion, love, caring and real action by all of the OST volunteers is what sold it to me.
With an amazing team of people, Operation Smile Thailand Fight Night 2011 was born. I helped to train boxers, match up bouts and organize the ring, while the all-volunteer Fight Night team made the entire event and show an amazing experience! I personally fought at Fight Night 2012 and we are now preparing (with passion) for Fight Night 2013!
After the last Fight Night and seeing the fundraising success, I really wanted to see firsthand how Operation Smile Thailand was changing children’s lives – one smile at a time. I didn’t only want to read it on a website or in a brochure, I wanted to meet the children, families and people responsible for making it happen, so I asked if it would be possible for me to attend the upcoming Sisaket Mission (my children’s mothers hometown) as a volunteer. My request was granted, and to say I was excited is an understatement.
Not quite sure what to expect once at the hospital, I said I was willing to do anything to help. Day 1 included screening, taking pictures, talking with children and families. The screening day alone was an amazing experience, seeing the faces of mothers and fathers whose children would be getting the life-changing surgeries was just something else, and being a parent to 2 young children myself, I could feel the joy and anxiety of the parents, most of whom were from extremely remote/poor areas of northeastern Thailand.
Day 2 was a surgery day and something I was really looking forward to witnessing – a childrens life being changed in front of my eyes. This also gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with the utterly amazing medical team including surgeons, anesthetists, scrub nurses etc. I am able to converse in Thai, so when we had lunch I got to talk to the surgeons led by Dr. Apichai Angspatt, and I have used this word a lot, but what an AMAZING bunch of people! So willing to help others with the skills they have been blessed with, so compassionate, loving, caring and meticulous with the surgeries.
Watching the surgeries being performed really gave me a true appreciation of how in as little as 45 minutes a skilled surgeon with a solid back up team can change a child’s life forever. Some of the surgeries were slightly longer and more complex, but the team went ahead and completed them with such care, it brought me to tears. After seeing the children on screening day then during/after surgery was something that will stay in my heart forever and drives my passion to continue to raise awareness for children and adults who deserve to smile with confidence.
Day 3 was time to leave to Bangkok, but before leaving I was able to visit the ward and speak with families whose children had already had the surgery performed and families whose children were preparing for it. A happy yet sad day, I would have loved to stay until the end of the mission but reality (work) was calling so I said goodbye to the children, families, new friends, hospital staff and headed off to the airport.
I am so grateful and privileged to have been allowed to be part of the Sisaket Mission and it truly has a special place in my heart, I still look at photos of the children and one day hope to be able to meet them again. Next, I am looking forward to attending the Ubon Mission, to increase my personal knowledge and to enable me to better carry the message of Operation Smile Thailand and help the overall goal of changing children’s lives one smile at a time