Launching into the unknown

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Guest Blog by Jesta

Flying tonight. Mostly packed and ready, but who knows? Made sure that I have my PSP and DS, and a collection of games to keep me occupied in the down-times.

I got the briefing pack from OS last night – it was a long letter detailing all the things that we will need to do and things that we shouldn’t do. It’s big on ideas like showing respect for the culture that we are going to work in. I’m guessing that this is something that the Americans feel is important based on past experience and that they need to remind people of. I’m hoping that those of us from Singapore are sufficiently culturally aware not to make any serious faux-pas.

On a personal level: My camera and equipment are a big concern. Not only are they horribly expensive, but they are (so far) uninsurable – no travel insurance covers the value of the equipment that I use and we have been warned about the crime situation in what is, in reality, a third-world part of China.

I’ve also got to think about the amount of weight that I will be carrying around – not just the camera, but also the laptop and other stuff (I’ve managed to pick up a chronic back condition that can make my life not a lot of fun at all). If I won’t be able to leave my stuff in the hotel then I will be having to cart it all over the place, which really won’t make my life easy.

I’m envisioning wandering around Urumqi looking like a latter-day Quasimodo or being hopped up on painkillers and smiling all the time.

On a more personal note: I think that my biggest worry (I tend to stress about things, if you haven’t already guessed) is that I will find it hard to cope with the emotional strain of dealing with parents and children. I tend to be quite empathic and seeing parents who are in a situation that I could have been in so easily if I had been in this place will be quite traumatic. To see children with cleft lip and palate will be hard, but to see some turned away will be really hard. OS cannot operate on all the children who are assessed – I believe that we are expecting to operate on 75 out of 150 so we will have to see parents who have lost hope, and children who will never have a chance at an ordinary life.

The balance will be that we will see parents and children who will now have a new life ahead of them. That will be the most wonderful thing for me, and it’s a huge part of the reason why I decided to work with this charity.

Believe me, there’s nothing that makes me feel warmer than looking at pictures of my daughter before and after her first operation…

Next update will be from China and will include more pictures.

Making the Dragon Smile

Recently, a reader got in contact with me after reading my post about cleft lip babies and how we can help them.

A recent scan of her unborn child had shown him to have a cleft palate. Her gynaecologist wasn’t able to offer her the guidance she needed, so I connected her with Jesta, a fellow cleft parent who is also a volunteer with Operation Smile Singapore and KK Hospital’s Cleft and Craniofacial Centre.

She now has the support she needs and has decided to keep her baby.

It warms my heart that there are organisations in Singapore actively reaching out to help parents and patients in need.

Next week, Operation Smile Singapore will be undertaking its first major Asian mission to reach out to patients in more needy parts of the world.

On Aug 20, a mission group will be going to Urumqi, Xin Jiang, China, to operate on 75 children to repair their cleft lip and palates. The surgical part of the mission is expected to last a week — three days of surgery and four days of post-operative care and training.

Here’s an example of how Operation Smile (Global) has helped kids from all over the world. (Click on image for more stories.)

For the coming mission to Urumqi, Jesta has been accepted as a volunteer photographer with the mission and will be using the pictures he takes for Operation Smile Singapore’s stock library and a photography exhibition for the Singapore Biennale.

I’m also very pleased to announce that Jesta will be guest blogging on about his trip, internet connection permitting.

Do watch out for his posts, which will be marked by this banner:

These mission trips to help children are made possible by public donations. If you wish to help, you can donate directly to Operation Smile Singapore.

Thank you for reading.

And I wish the mission team to Urumqi safety and success.

Please help her to smile

I have a friend who’s going through trying times.

Six months ago, his daughter was born with a cleft lip. For six months now, he’s endured seeing his little girl go through an endless ordeal of operations and therapy. The pain and confusion reflected in her little innocent eyes during these sessions must not be easy for him to bear.

And it’s only just begun. She will have to go through more surgeries till she’s 18, when she receives her last operation.

My heart goes out to my friend and his wife.

But, more so, my heart goes out to little Natalie, who was born with a cleft lip.

Fortunately for Natalie and her parents, there are two groups in Singapore devoted to supporting families of children with cleft palates.

Under the care of an expert surgeon who works with Operation Smile, Natalie has gone through a series of marvellous transformations.

She looks like such a happy little gem my heart breaks to think of all the pain she has to go through.

Unfortunately for Natalie, the physical scar from the surgeries will never completely disappear. As much as she looks almost normal now, she will bear the mark of her ordeal for life.

Society in general might be mature enough to accept minor facial deformities by the time she grows up, but she might still experience her fair share of jibes and ridicule when she starts going to school, where unthinking, curious, insensitive peers abound.

We can all play a part to help.

We can educate ourselves and we can educate our children. Cleft lip patients are people just like you and me. They deserve a normal life.

And that’s what Operation Smile Singapore and the KK Hospital’s Cleft and Craniofacial Centre have dedicated themselves to — helping cleft lipped children in Singapore grow up to a normal life.

It can be done.

How you can help

  1. Take a moment to look at the Operation Smile website to learn more about the condition. Donate if you can.
  2. Attend the WAFF Carnival on July 13, 2008, at *scape Youth Park.

    WAFF (Warm and Fuzzy Feeling) seeks to increase awareness of cleft lip and palate conditions, as well as raise funds in support of the Cleft and Craniofacial Support Group.

  3. Attend the IGNITE Music Festival 2008 at Republic Polytechnic on July 25-26 because this event also supports the cause.
  4. Spread the word.

Natalie can’t talk yet.

But if she could, I’m sure she would want to thank you personally for your support.

Help her to smile better.