Students join medical mission to Mae Sot to help charity that performs life-changing surgeries
In early November, eight Shrewsbury students were invited to Mae Sot as guests and helpers of ‘Operation Smile, Thailand’ – the charity which provides facial surgeries for patients who would not otherwise be able to access such life-transforming procedures.
Now in its third year of operation, Shrewsbury's student-led ‘Smile Club’ is on its way to raising more than 100,000 THB for the charity this year.
The work of Operation Smile and their volunteer doctors such as the esteemed Medical Field Director, Dr. Apichai Angspatt, is well known to the Smile Club members, but nothing could have prepared them for the experience of actually being in the operating theatre.
Over three days, students were given access to 122 patients who received care, doctors and administrative volunteers to ask questions about the mission, or in the case of the many children affected – to spend time, hear their stories, keep them company, and play with them as they began their road to recovery.
Shrewsbury teachers Chris and Carol Simcox accompanied the students on the trip north and were overwhelmed with their maturity, commitment and energy, especially with regards to the younger patients.
“Some of these kids have never seen things as basic as colouring pencils. Our students were patient and nurturing in their approach to what is a difficult situation. They were aware of their privilege and put that aside as they sat on the floor with them and shared their time. It was heart-warming to see”, Mr Simcox beamed.
As the doctors operated, many students wondered why patients wait so long for a procedure that takes no longer than 60 minutes.
In addition to the difficulty accessing healthcare in remote rural areas, the principal reason is, of course, money. Repairing a cleft palate or cleft lip costs in the order of 25,000 baht, a fee insurmountable to the families that Operation Smile support. Unfortunately, there are many associated problems with the condition, including difficulty breathing, eating, and drinking. As a result, many patients suffer from malnutrition and other medical and psychological issues.
However, Operation Smile Thailand offers hope to many, so far treating 7,000 children since 1997. The visit by our Shrewsbury students is also another way of spreading the message. In addition to the money raised and donated by the Smile Club, the charity is very grateful for the publicity generated by the visits such as this in helping to raise its profile and awareness of the cause.
For several students, the chance to experience the work of Operation Smile first hand has inspired their own journey into the medical profession. For Year 12 student Jirayu (Ken) Hanpiyavatanasakul, the trip confirmed his vocation;
“The doctors were amazing. At times they were performing these intricate procedures while chatting to us. I have recently concluded that I want to be a doctor – this trip solidified that decision. I want to use my position in Thai society to improve people’s living standards”, he enthused.
“The fact that Shrewsbury provides these opportunities is pretty cool. It is quite rare that ordinary students are granted access to situations like this one.”
Mr Simcox says another trip for next year is already on the cards considering the positive benefits for students.
“Exposure to experiences like this can change the perspective of society, and it is young people who will be our leaders one day.”
Aside from providing operative and post-operative care to those most in need in rural areas, Operation Smile Thailand also includes training and education programs to volunteers and staff. All of these incredible services come at a significant cost so please visit their website to find out more at: http://thailand.operationsmile.org/.