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My Operation Smile Mission Amman, Jordan

9 years ago, I ventured to the Middle East where I was blessed to serve a medical mission with Operation Smile as a student educator. Op Smile is a non-profit children’s charity that provides free, life-changing procedures to individuals with cleft lip and palates. They give the gift of smiles 🙂

With one of the beautiful babies I got to work with in Jordan

I spent a week in beautiful Amman, Jordan educating children and families on topics like dental hygiene, nutrition, and burn care at the hospital, schools, and a refugee camp. Over 100 children and young adults qualified for surgery and it was incredible to see them go through screening to recovery… so, so humbling. 

SO MUCH GOOD FOOD

How I got involved with Operation Smile

A friend invited me to learn more about OpSmile when I was 15. Little did she know how big of an impact she would have on my life! I started by getting involved locally, then attending the conference OpSmile puts on for students each year called the International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC). Every year it is held in a different location around the world. My life is exponentially better because of my experience at the conferences I attended as a high schooler.

We arrived with hundreds and hundreds of pounds of donations!

I then had to apply to a Mission Training Workshop, where they selected 38 students from the country to go and get trained on how to be a student educator on a medical mission. I was accepted and flew to Virginia Beach in January of 2010 and that’s where I got a mission assignment to Amman, Jordan.

Going to Amman, Jordan on our Medical Mission

I was one of the first people from our group to get a medical mission, and so I quickly prepared for weeks to get everything I needed and collect donations. I flew to Jordan with one other student educator and our sponsor, plus a team of plastic surgeons, oral surgeons, child life specialists, nurses, anesthesiologists, and medical record specialists.

I could write for days and days about my experience there. (I actually wrote a blog while I was there and you can read that here, though keep in mind I was 16 and blogging was a newish thing!)

It was absolutely thrilling and the hardest I have ever worked. Our days started early and ended late. We were on the dusty, dirty floor most of the time with the children and I have never poured my soul more into something. I vowed to never complain once, and absolutely live in each moment with absolute joy and gratitude.

I loved those children and families I met so much and think of them often. I have a lot of sacred and special stories about certain patients, which I’m keeping in my heart for now. Children truly are such a gift to the world. They unite us and have the power to turn hate into love.

What I learned on my Mission

The number one thing I learned? Good people exist everywhere. SUCH good, altruistic, generous, loving, kind, and GOOD people exist from every corner of the earth and every walk of life.

Other things I learned… a smile is the same in every language. Children can unite worlds and overcome hate. Stickers fix everything. There is so much injustice in the world, and those who have been blessed with more have the obligation to help and create a better world. Change starts with me.

Coming Home

It was hard coming home from that life altering experience. Literally no one could understand what I had gone through, and everyone’s life was still the same as when I left, while mine had radically changed. It was hard for me to connect with anyone or pay attention to anything.

People would stop me between periods and ask how my trip was. How was I supposed to sum up the greatest experience of my entire life in 20 seconds? So, “it was amazing and life changing!” was all I could muster when all I wanted was to pour my heart out to every single person and enlist them to help me change the world.

Riding a camel in Petra

Having your life changed like that as a 17 year old is not easy. I was dating a fabulous boy who just didn’t get why I was a little different and a bit checked out. My friends knew I was different. My family didn’t even get it. I didn’t even get it for a long time and I felt completely alone and confused about what I was doing in life, not on a mission.

Sitting in English class was impossible because the most important thing in that 50 minute class was an AP exam. I was just dreaming about the bigger problems/injustice in the world and how I was going to solve it. Everyone was worried about something as trivial as prom and I was trying to figure out if I could graduate early and move to Virginia Beach for school so I could work at OS headquarters.

My grades slipped that quarter and my teachers told me I needed to get my priorities in check and clean up my act. Now, I was a straight A/high honors/AP scholar/voted “most involved with school” in the yearbook type of person. So it was infuriating when my teachers told me I needed to do that. But I’ve had that fire since I was 16, and still do to this day. 🌎

I got involved with OS through a friend, and I will forever be indebted to her for changing my life because of it. I served on the Executive Leadership Counsel for all of Operation Smile Student Programs my senior year, and got to travel to China and all over the US raising awareness and donations. It truly was such an incredible time in my life.

My Life’s Dream

It is my life’s dream to be able to do more missions (with my kids!) and expand OpSmile’s mission around the globe, creating smiles. I want to be a lifelong humanitarian because I truly believe that Service is not a Project, it is a Way of Life.

I feel so so blessed to have my life’s perspective and outlook changed as a 17 year old. It gave me passion, drive, and the inspiration to know that change starts with me.

Be the change you wish to see in the world – Gandhi

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with food (though I had some AMAZING food there!!), but I have these feelings this time every year and hope you get to know me better through this little glimpse into my heart 💛

Learn more about Operation Smile here.