Dream Team

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Working with Operation Smile, a local physician helps bring hope to children in Madagascar

smile-opOur plane touched down in Antananarivo, the capital city of the fourth-largest island in the world.

“Hey O, Hey O!” Welcome to Madagascar, a land brought to life by Hollywood movies, children’s tales and colorful music. A fantasy island filled with talking limas, chameleons, crocodiles and happy children on endless adventures.

Wow! My long-awaited  journey had finally begun. As part of Operation Smile, I was here to help children with cleft lips and palates.

After passing through customs, I found the trusted international sign for the men’s room and ventured inside. I became immediately confused as I experienced the feel of cold porcelain, found other uses for the local newspaper and dried my hands on a designer shirt. Viewing a local chameleon on the wall, I eased over and asked, “Hey buddy, I’m from America. What’s the story here in Madagascar?” Despite my repeated attempts to communicate in English, high school French and hand gestures, I got no response from my little friend. I surmised that the poor chameleon was probably deaf and moved on.

Once outside, I was immediately encircled by shoeless children in tattered clothes. With dark hair and somewhat Asian features, their big brown eyes cast an air of desperation as they extended their hands and simply said, “Please.” The mass of others were suffocating, selling everything from fresh vanilla to semiprecious stones, never accepting an answer of no. Seeking emotional refuge, I escaped to the shelter of our chartered bus, embarrassed by my own extravagant lifestyle. Here in Madagascar, I would soon learn that survival of the fittest not only applies to the animal kingdom on the plains of Africa, but to the children in the heart of Antananarivo as well.

A team of volunteers from all parts of the globe began with one mission: to help children physically, mentally and socially who were born with facial malformations. To touch their hearts, ease their pain, free them from a lifetime of self-shame and unworthiness. Through surgical, social and psychological intervention, to give them the chance to see the beauty within themselves and experience the god-given right of every child—“to feel loved.”

In Madagascar and all over the world, innocent children suffer the social stigma of congenital malformation and are treated as outcasts, banished from the joys of ordinary life that are taken for granted by those “born whole.”

A simple smile.

A loving kiss.

A warm hello.