Visiting a family at home in the mountains of Colombia
Last week I went to Bogota, Colombia with my youngest son Griffin Del on my second trip to attend a medical mission with international children's charity Operation Smile. The last time I went was more than six years ago and it was amazing. We went to David, Panama with my husband, my oldest son Zack and my best friend Kathy Van Zeeland. We handed out our beloved Three Little Bears teddy bears to patients and their families, and we were thrilled to do the same in Colombia.
In Colombia, Operation Smile operates a full time clinic that takes care of patients year round, and provides a full range of services. This is a sustainable care model that they are working on for countries around the world. It was wonderful to see all of the incredible work they do, meet all of the lovely people there, and finally, to see the vibrant city of Bogota which is a modern, growing city and culturally exciting.
I attended this trip with my dear friend Alisyn Camerota, her two daughters, and several members of the Operation Smile team. CNN came to film an upcoming segment on anchors and their charities. Stay tuned for the air date.
In February, two other Greenwich families also visited Bogota. They had 'won' the opportunity to visit during an auction at our Smile Greenwich event in 2016. Five members of the Merrill family & three members of the de la Sierra family visited Bogota. After the trip, I invited the attendees to fill our a short number of questions to share their experience, below are the answers from Julia Merrill, a high school senior at Greenwich High School. Julia started the Spreading Smiles Club at GHS and was born with a cleft palate. We will share other trip attendees experiences as well.
To support Operation Smile, please check out our Smile Collection for products benefiting Operation Smile https://www.theperfectprovenance.com/collections/the-smile-collection
Keep checking in. Have a great week, lisa lori
My son Griffin Del observing surgery
Interview with Julia Merrill
1) What was the most interesting thing you learned about Colombia? Did anything surprise you?
I was most surprised by how welcoming the Colombian people were, especially the people at the Operation Smile center. I assumed that they would not want people intervening in such a personal and stressful matter. I was so happy to find that they want our love and compassion, as much as we wanted to share it. I am so grateful that these people let in a bunch of strangers into such a monumental part of their lives, for us not only to share our experience in this area but to learn from them.
2) Did you try any new food? Any restaurants you would recommend or excursions?
I loved Colombian food! One of my favorite dishes was the Bandeja Paisa, a traditional and very yummy Colombian dish. It has rice, beans, fried pork belly, avocado, a fried egg, and arepa (traditional Colombian bread). You have to be hungry to tackle the dish, but this combination is better than you could imagine!
3) Did you learn anything new about Operation Smile and if yes, what was it?
I learned that Operation Smile provides so much more than surgeries. I was surprised and happy to find that the patients and their families are provided with services like Orthodontia, Psychology sessions, Speech Therapy, and more, all in one location! I am so pleased that Operation Smile sees through the whole process with their patients, so they never feel lost in a confusing and stressful process.
4) Was there any one experience you would like to share?
I went into a Psychology session with a 28 year old woman named Nancy. She had just gotten her surgery to repair a cleft lip a month prior to me meeting her. She had been ostracized for her whole life and almost felt ashamed to go out and meet new people. The fact that this beautiful young woman does not feel like she belongs anywhere and does not have a positive image of herself broke my heart. I began talking with her and trying to give her some advice, and we exchanged contact information. I have now been talking with her through Facebook for over a month, and it feels amazing to be connected with someone in a different continent, knowing that our relationship is hopefully brightening both our lives.
5) Now that you are back, how has attending a medical mission impacting your life?
Going on this medical mission has not only made me more appreciative, but it has also influenced my career interests. I am looking into a field of global health where I can see the direct impact of my work on the lives of others. I found this sense of fulfillment during my trip to Colombia and I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to learn more about Op Smile.