As many of you know I have officially transitioned from being a Peace Corps Volunteer to working for Operation Smile in Madagascar.
I decided why not keep this blog and write stories about the awesome work Operation Smile is doing in country.
We recently held our 14th mission in Madagascar. The mission welcomed an international team of 80 volunteers supported by numerous local volunteers!
A new initiative and highlight of the mission was our Patient Village!
The Patient Shelter also known as the Patient Village, provided patients with daily workshops and educational activities. Our ultimate goal with the Patient Village is to offer patients and care givers’ a safe and positive place to stay, eat, and form a community.
The patient village offered:
– Three warm meals and good sleeping conditions (Mattresses and blankets)
– Educational workshops throughout the week focused on empowering our patients and their care givers. These workshops were organized and implemented by Peace Corps Volunteers, Local NGO’s (PSI), Local Community Members (ONN), and Local Student Clubs.
Here are some examples of the various workshops that our families were abel to experience:
- Nutrition and Healthy Foods
- Culinary Demonstrations
- Handwashing and Hygiene
- Dental Hygiene
- Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health
- Compost and Gardening
- Music and GamesZumba and Karaoke
- Arts and Crafts
These workshops were organized every day, allowing our families to learn new skills, build memories, and build a new community at the patient village.
Quotes from our families:
“I felt like although I was far, I had a community I belonged to. It makes me feel happy that I can share this experience with others”.
“I was able to make a home away from my home. I really enjoyed meeting people that are in the same situation as I am. It made me feel like I am not alone. My child is not alone.”
“I learned so many things this week! Gardening was my favorite, I believe I can make the same when I return to my village. I will be able to provide for my family.”
“I really enjoyed the dancing and singing. Zumba was so wonderful. I loved seeing vazahas (foreigners) move ! They really know how to dance!”
“I enjoyed preparing songs and speeches for the Operation Smile team. It was wonderful to share our culture with them, to show them how much we appreciate them helping us. We cannot offer much, but we sang with our heart and I think it showed them how thankful we are.”
“I want my children to smile, I want them to be able to live their life smiling.” Seheno smiled as she stroked her daughters black hair. Seheno, mother of four, has a cleft lip. Her daughter Mena, is a twin, and she also was born with a cleft lip and palate. Her youngest boy, Fitahiana, also born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate.
“When my twins were born the first girl came into life with a normal lip, the second was born with a cleft. The midwife brought them both to me and I immediately felt sad and nervous. I reflected on my childhood as a young girl who had a cleft lip. It was difficult. I did not want my daughter to go through the same hard times. When I gave birth to my youngest son Fitahiana, he was born with both a cleft lip and cleft palate. Again, I questioned why this was happening to me. I too suffer from a cleft lip- yet I did not understand why they would have one too.”
Seheno, and her two children have attended many Operation Smile missions. This one being a very special mission for the family. Her two children had already received successful cleft lip surgery from Operation Smile. Her son received cleft palate surgery this mission. This mission was very special because Seheno herself was selected to receive cleft lip surgery as well as her children.
“I waited for my two children to be able to smile happily before I received surgery. I wanted them to have a good start to life and a new smile. Look at them- they are just so happy. Seeing them makes me happy. Now me too, I can smile, I finally received surgery! I am thankful. We have a story, one that we want to share. Our story is of strength, of family, of love, and of determination. I never stopped loving my children.”
Seheno sat proudly and wrapped her arms around her two children.
“I was once asked why I think my children were born with a cleft lip and palate. To be honest, I think God gave me these children because he knew I would be able to take care of them. They are my gifts. I understand that not everyone will have the opportunity to receive surgery, I just want to express how thankful I am. We are an Operation Smile family.”
I met Bao Zoma, mother of four and grandmother of seven, while taking a bike ride through the countryside of Madagascar. In September 2015, I joined Bao Zoma as she traveled to the Operation Smile medical mission in Tana with her middle grandchild, Sandra, who was in need of a cleft lip repair. Now that Sandra has a beautiful smile, Bao Zoma is motivated to find more children in need of critical surgical care and bring them to Operation Smile. She has become a spokesperson for Operation Smile in the part of her country where radios do not reach and many cannot read the posters that are taped up at the health huts around the village.
When asked what motivates her to find more children suffering from cleft lip and cleft palate, she responded: “My grandchild once suffered from cleft lip. My grandchild Sandra was teased, dropped out of school, and was a shy girl. Now I can’t keep her in the house, she has many friends, and is constantly smiling. She is beautiful. I would like to give that gift, the gift of smiling to others like Sandra.”
Bao Zoma recently recruited two other patients for the upcoming medical mission here in Madagascar in April.
She walked eight kilometers, crossed a river and hiked another two kilometers to reach these children– a young boy by the name of Gino and a young girl named Nordine. I am happy to report they will be joining me on the medical mission in April.
Thank you Bao Zoma, not only for serving as a spokesperson for Operation Smile, but also for being an amazing grandmother.
Check out my story on Operation Smile’s Blog: A grandmother’s wish
Dear Family and Friends,
The primary objective of this project is to educate adolescent girls about issues related to health, education and life goals through a five-day GLOW, or Girls Leading Our World, camp. We hope to empower participants to lead healthier lives and give them the tools to achieve their life goals related to work and education by learning about opportunities available to them, and in turn teach other girls in their communities about lessons learned. The camp will be held in the capital city of Antananarivo for 100 girls and 20 women chaperones from 20 different communities across multiple regions of Madagascar.
The GLOW curriculum will focus on issues relevant to adolescent girls and specifically leadership development, self-efficacy, goal setting and life planning – including higher education and work. In the short term, we will encourage the girls to reflect on and discuss the subjects addressed during the camp, and then transfer knowledge gained to peer groups in their communities through additional trainings and discussions. In the long term, we hope that the girls will adopt healthy habits and become role models to other individuals in their communities, encouraging behavior change and eventually empowering themselves and others to lead their best possible lives. The community contribution includes supplies to promote a good learning environment for the girls throughout the camp, time donated by chaperones to help the camp run smoothly, and materials donated to facilitate learning in the communities after the camp has ended.
This project has been designed to expand access to education for girls in Madagascar as part of the Let Girls Learn Program. Learn more at letgirlslearn.peacecorps.gov.
Please donate to our project!
I met Bao Zoma, mother of four and grandmother of seven while taking a bike ride through the countryside. In September 2015 Bao Zoma brought her middle grandchild Sandra up with me to the mission in Tana. Now that Sandra has a beautiful smile, Bao Zoma is driven to find more children in need of new smiles. She has become a spokesperson for Operation Smile in the countryside where radios do not reach and many cannot read the posters that are taped at the health huts. When asked where her motivation to find more patients that suffer from cleft lip and palate comes from, she responds: “My grandchild once suffered from cleft lip, my grandchild Sandra was teased, dropped out of school, and was a shy girl. Now I can’t keep her in the house, she has many friends, and is constantly smiling. She is beautiful. I would like to give that gift, the gift of smiling to others like Sandra.”
Bao Zoma, recently recruited two other patients for the upcoming April Mission here in Madagascar. She walked 8 km, crossed a river and hiked another 2 km, to reach these patients, a young boy by the name of Gino and a young girl named Nordine. I am happy to say they will be joining me on the April Mission. Thank you Bao Zoma, for being not only a spokesperson for Operation Smile but an amazing grandmother.
So many changes, growth, and wisdom has come to me in the year of 2015. From deciding to extend for a third year with the Peace Corps in Madagascar to being offered my first job with Operation Smile, amazing things realized themselves.
2015 allowed me to grow as a person, a woman, a mentor, a leader, and most of all an action maker. I realized that if I wanted something done, I had to make it happen. As many of you reading my blog know, I created a Cultural Center of Hope in my village. This Center has given me the best days of my service and also provided me with some rough challenges. All of the challenges I was able to overcome. Tight budget, lack of funding, lack of resources, lack of materials. I found solutions. SOLUTIONS. The year 2015 was the year of solutions. I found donors. I started fundraising. I received in-kind donations. I provided my donors, family and friends with updates on our work and our progress at the Center. I received love, support, and commitment from my community and the members of the center.
We now have 38 classes running weekly.
We provide French, English, Computer Skills, Zumba, and Sewing classes for less than 30 cents a month participation.
We have a strong membership of adults, youth, and kindergardeners.
We have a small team but a strong team.
All teachers who teach at the Center, give back, volunteer their time to teach.
I have poured my entire heart, sweat (I am not kidding when I say this), and love in this Center. So again, huge huge thank you to those of you who have donated to the project.
Together we CAN make a difference.
If you are still interested in donating to the Center: https://www.gofundme.com/hopecenter
2015 also provided me with an enormous wealth of knowledge.
I learned how to communicate with people better. I learned how to patient and timely. I learned how to appreciate the things I have and the life I have been blessed with.
Thank you 2015.
[ Hello. 2016 ]