LDS Youth Help Bring Meaning to Operation Smile in Ecuador
Contributed By By Elder Joel E. Greer and Sister Annette Greer, Church humanitarian missionaries
- LDS youth from the Babahoyo Stake in Ecuador volunteered at Operation Smile April 23–26 and helped bring comfort, fun, and relief to families and children.
Twice a year in Ecuador, the Church contributes humanitarian support to Operation Smile through its humanitarian service missionaries. This service is only one part of the involvement that the Church has in humanitarian projects in Ecuador and in over 139 countries across the world.
On April 23–26 Operation Smile, along with the Church humanitarian service missionaries, performed over 110 surgeries on small children with cleft lips and palates. These surgeries used sutures, anesthesia, and intertrachial tubes, all of which were donated by the Church. Each of the children selected for the surgeries came from financially disadvantaged homes where they could never have had this operation performed otherwise.
Families whose children have cleft lips and palates from all over Ecuador traveled to Babahoyo, a very poor community some distance outside Guayaquil. The trip, which is often 8 to 12 hours by bus, required enormous sacrifice just to have the children evaluated for the procedure. The $8–10 spent on bus fair could be a week’s worth of groceries for a family, but the chance that a child might enjoy a normal life is worth the significant sacrifice.
A local hospital in Babahoyo donated space for volunteer medical personnel to evaluate the kids and perform the surgeries. The doctors and nurses, a significant part of whom were Latter-day Saints, all paid their own way to volunteer their time to help these families.
Not only were the doctors and nurses volunteers, but youth from the Babahoyo Stake also came to donate time each day to help work with the kids as they underwent the process of evaluation and surgery. Operation Smile asked for up to five volunteers to help and keep up the spirits of the families going through the operation.
On evaluation day, nine LDS youth from different wards throughout the Babahoyo Stake came to help the families. Each was assigned a family to help through the entire evaluation process, which included psychology, orthodontics, plastic surgery, speech therapy, weights and measurements, diagnosis, and scheduling. The youth’s job was to help the mothers by playing with the babies and taking charge of the files of each child.
The next morning was surgery day, and 13 LDS youth showed up to help the families. They spent 12 hours playing with the kids who were waiting for their turn in the operating room. They brought games and toys and helped to keep the family’s minds off of the upcoming surgeries. By the end of the day, deep bonds and attachments were formed between the children and the youth volunteers.
Each day, for three days, the LDS youth made a real difference in this event in Ecuador. They truly brought meaning to Operation Smile. The hospital staff had never seen such a display of smiles and laughter as the youth brought to the pediatric ward of the Babahoyo hospital.