I’ve made many incredible memories whilst working for Smile Train, but the one which tops them all is the day I visited our partner hospital in Laos.
I was on holiday with my brother and his girlfriend, enjoying elephant adventures, zip-lining through jungles and swimming in waterfalls. Whilst there were plenty of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, this was the highlight of the whole trip. The South East Asia Smile Train Programme Co-ordinator had arranged for the three of us to meet some of the team our funds support at the Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
We met three doctors, about five nurses and two speech therapists. Meeting the speech therapists was a great bonus – they were visiting from Thailand on a Smile Train grant to teach the Laotian team how to help children with speech difficulties. We were given the chance to observe some speech and language therapy training sessions, meaning we could watch Smile Train’s sustainable "teach a man to fish" model in action.
The team were incredibly welcoming, and it was pretty emotional to see first-hand the impact Smile Train has on their lives – not only for the children, but the medical professionals too. They were so delighted that we had ‘made the effort’ to visit and grateful for Smile Train’s support that they took us to meet Dr Phisith Phoutsavath, the Director General of the whole hospital! This was a truly great honour and it was a privilege to meet him and discuss Smile Train’s impact for the hospital.
Once we were back on the ward, we were introduced to a little girl called Si Phon. She was about seven years old, born with a cleft lip and palate and about to have another reconstructive operation on her lip. I was able to meet her and give her a notebook and some colouring pens before she went in (I remember how much I enjoyed colouring to take my mind off surgery at about her age). It was incredible to show her and her mum photos of me as a baby and show how we are connected through our clefts despite being hundreds of miles (and lifestyles) apart.
Whilst in the doctors' bay chatting with the team, we suddenly met a young family who’d travelled for two days to reach the hospital after seeing one of Smile Train’s flyers. They had brought their 9-month-old baby who was born with a cleft lip for an initial assessment, her lip repair operation was soon set for that Wednesday. We also saw a 4-year-old little girl who had come back in for a check-up to ensure her palate had been successfully repaired without infection – all was okay.
Back in the UK I felt somehow even more motivated to continue to do everything possible to raise funds and ensure every child gets the complete treatment they deserve.