Everything shifts

We were so worried leaving last week. Every one of us that is from out of the country was heading home for Christmas and we thought "What about the children?" Not once since we started in October 2011have we missed the weekly meals and I couldn't stand the thought of missing now, after all this time. The food can be quite time consuming and difficult to cook if you have not done it before so we arranged to have our hospital cafeteria make it, my local friend who has been helping for nearly a year would pick it up and bring it for distribution. In addition, there is a nursing student from the states visiting and she was interested in helping pass out the food. As Saturday night in California rolled around my mind, as always when I am here, drifted to Guwahati and Lakhtokia. I worried that something would go wrong and the food wouldn't make it, I worried that the nursing student would be overwhelmed, and we wouldn't be there to talk about it. Somewhere, though, I knew that the sense of stability and consistency has already changed this community and its children. I knew everything would be okay. I woke up in the middle of the night to a beautiful message from the nursing student:

"I am having trouble finding words to describe how I felt and how I feel now. At one point I was absolutely speechless and almost started crying. Even now....The kids were having such a blast! As soon as they saw us their faces lit up and they ran to get the others, and they took our hands leading us. You were right, they just want to be loved...."

A huge wave of emotion washed over me. I so vividly remember that moment. The one where everything shifts. Where you realize now you have seen and met these children. They are more than just a face on a screen; their level of poverty is beyond comprehension (and so often their joy too) and the fact that it is found in the middle of a city makes the disparity that much more obvious. Yes, now their lives are more than something you have heard about and somehow your existence and theirs have become intertwined.

Everything shifts

Your reality will never be the same. Gosh, I remember that exact moment. Something rips open and all of this very real need just spills out before you. The world seems to grow underneath your feet as you stand there with three children in your arms and a dozen more excitedly waiting for their turn to be hugged (read: to be loved). The world inexplicably expands, it becomes huge and in the moment you remember how we exclaim: 

"The world is mine!"

A triumphant statement of ownership that no longer seems acceptable because now you know, it is not the world which belongs to you, but you who so clearly belongs to the world. 

 Photo by Laura C. Steinbach from 09/12

Photo by Laura C. Steinbach from 09/12

 Photo by Laura C. Steinbach from 09/12

Photo by Laura C. Steinbach from 09/12



Running into her on the streets, finding her hard at work warms me from the inside out. It takes away that chill in my bones caused by the cool winter air. Her eyes are so bright that you almost can't see the pain etched deep inside them from a life time of struggle. She, this woman so recently fighting for her life, for each and every breath now stands strongly back at work making a small but tangible existence for her family. She, a woman so thin that I thought she must surely be suffering from HIV in addition to her tuberculosis, proved otherwise and has come full circle in her fight. It wasn't long back that I rushed with her to the hospital when she was in severe distress. Her bright eyes were starving for oxygen, her lungs begging for breath. Every muscle in her frail body was exhausting itself just to inhale, exhale. It wasn't so long ago that I sat next to her hospital bed and held her hand until she slept, with no one else to come and attend to her. It wasn't so long ago that I worried she wouldn't make it, I worried that her daughter would be orphaned and that this could really be the end of her fight. It seemed like a miracle, when I got the call at work that she was discharged from the hospital and not long after that declared tuberculosis free. Slowly she became stronger and stronger and she no longer needed me to come and meet her every day for medicine. Oh, how I miss seeing her every morning but these unexpected meetings feel like letting go of a long held breath. Like the kind of coming home where it doesn't matter where you are, you know you are home as soon as you are in the presence of that single person. It feels like knowing that one, just one still matters. One life, one woman, one mother, one friend.



180+ Smiles in Cebu, Philippines

Looking out the window of the plane flying into Manila I saw the ocean dotted with fishing huts reaching far out from the shore and I knew, we had arrived in the Philippines. I so often feel like you can't tell one place from another when high in the sky, but you most certainly can. The red earth of Africa, the architecture of the homes seemingly stacked upon homes in India, the fishing huts in the Philippines, the curve of the shoreline in California.... and somehow every place feels like arriving home.

I travelled with two of the Indian nurses I work with, it was their first time out of the country and we could not have been more blessed to get to be a part of Operation Smile's 30th anniversary celebration in their journey to change lives forever.

30 years ago Dr. Bill Magee travelled to Naga City and performed 40 cleft surgeries, having to turn away 260 other patients who so desperately needed their help. This is how Operation Smile was born out of a previously unanswerable need to bring these children back into an accepted part of society. 30 years later and over 200,000 operations have been performed. I would say that Dr.Magee is seeing his dream come true to make the world cleft free. There is a passion so intertwined in this organization, it can not be escaped. In the month of November 1,000 medical volunteers gathered at 9 medical mission sites all over the Philippines and together performed 1,219 life changing surgeries. What an incredible month!

The site I was on was in Cebu City, the second largest city in the Philippines and, in my opinion, the most amazing team was there! From screening day onward, I was blown away by the happiness and warmth the patients and their families had. I feel like no matter where OpSmile takes me, I fall in love with the people and the country and the Philippines was no exception. Every time I walked past the ward I was greeted with smiles, waves, and the classic Filipino "handsome" pose (see below.) I can't even begin to describe how impossible it is not to love these kids! We completed over 180 successful surgeries when it was all said and done and of course I found it difficult to leave on that last day knowing I will likely never see these children again. 

At the end of the mission week, the four teams gathered back in Manila to celebrate together. It was a great time catching up with all the other teams and spending time with old friends from past missions. We had a lot of dancing and each team performed a dance that they practiced during the week. Our team raised money to pay for two surgeries during the week and the prize was that we got to shave the student sponsor's head! It was such a good end to an incredible week together. 

 On our team day we saw the dancing inmates . I still don't know how I feel about it. It is a 'maximum security' prison but we got to take pictures with a few of them? I'm confused :/

 Pre-operative waiting area

 The classic Filipino picture pose! So handsome!!

Mack our coordinator!!

 Now that is commitment to the cause! Bye Bye hair!

Team Cebu!


Hours I spent pouring over the shoe shops in Fancy Bazar after measuring every available child's foot in Lakhtokia. Carefully measuring each shoe to match each girl or boy, I loaded up 50 pairs onto my scooter, went home and with help carefully organized each size into different bags. With excitement in our eyes, Sunday rolled around with it came shoe distribution day! The children ran up to me with their dirtied, tiny slips of paper they were given after being measured. Excitedly they pulled their papers out of their pockets, their homes and underwear. Somehow in the madness, they had held onto their number slips for two weeks. I couldn't believe it! Huge hugs and squeals all around, the shoes had arrived!

Imagine their heartbreak when the shoes didn't fit... anyone! I handed out the first pair and the look of joy on her face was quickly replaced by sadness when she tried to put on the shoe and it was too small. I nearly started crying, I had not bought the shoes correctly and soon everything started to get out of control. After realizing that, we decided to collect back all of the shoes and re-group for next week. I went home with a heavy heart. Learning all of this as we go is so hard sometimes. The last thing we wanted was to make such a happy day, a sad one. I felt disappointed in myself but more determined than ever to make it work the following Sunday. I re-measured all the shoes, bought 45 more pairs of sandals, re-organized and mentally prepared to hand them out again. We arrived and succesfully passed out around 70 pairs of sandals! The kids were calm enough this time around that my friends and I could individually ensure that the pair given fit well and the kids walked away ecstatic!

So here is to goals being met just a few days before Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for continuing to be able to be a part of the lives of these children. Even more so, I am grateful for the support they receive when we take on projects like this. Every child we work with received a pair of shoes, a huge gift in their lives. Thank you so much for helping us to make this happen. In this season of giving, you are helping us to give to those who never ask and would never otherwise receive. Thank you, on behalf of the children of Lakhtokia.

Darjeeling: In Pictures

(from November)

The Himalayas!

 Momos (dumplings) being hand made

 Tibetan carpets being loomed 

Vegetable dyed wool, made by Tibetan refugees living in Darjeeling 

 Tea tasting at Happy Valley Tea Estate

 The toy train...

On the toy train

Le Baby Taj!

The Taj Mahal in a different light