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Smiles for our hearts
Photo essay: Making a change in someone’s life by operating on low-income kids with cleft lips


Sandra Nunez
Photos by Sina Farzaneh
April 23, 2007

China, 8:00 am in the morning..we are waiting for our train at the Shanghai Railway Station to make our way to Hangzhou, a town where we’ ll meet a group of doctors who flew in from the States and Canada to operate 100 kids with cleft lip in only four days.

We had no idea of what was ahead of us, all we knew is that a month before Sina and I wrote an article about Norooz in Shanghai and Dr. Amir Rafii contacted us saying that he and a group of colleagues would come to China sometime in April to perform this sweet labor of, literally, making people smile. All we had was our hopes and our excitement that not only would we be witnesses of this but also document those moments in life where all you can do is be thankful for people with the willingness of helping others without expecting anything back.

We arrived to Hangzhou and jumped on a cab to Zhejiang Provincial People’s Hospital, where we met Amir and the rest of the team. A rush of emotions and thoughts run through my body the moment I analyzed the scenario we were at: First we had these doctors and nurses who had chosen to come to the other side of the world to make a change in someone’s life by operating kids with very low resources >>> Photos

Then we had the parents, and eventhough I am not a mother, I can imagine the fear of putting your kid in someone else’s hands, and why not saying this, into a foreigner’s hand who does not speak the language and it’s only here for a week mixed with the excitement and gratefulness that someone had chosen to help 100 kids in China and one of them happened to be their own child. And then we had us, Sina, Amir and I , a photographer, a doctor and a writer meeting up in Hangzhou thanks to the power of connection, to be part of such noble cause. Life can be surreal sometimes.

Dr. Amir managed to grant us access to the Operation Rooms to experience as close as we could each of the surgeries that took place that sunday. To see those hands touching the little kids faces, reconstructing them,doing their best to change the upper lip they were born with for a new one that will let them smile and get rid of the complications cleft lip brings with it was like watching a sort of miracle being permofed in front of our eyes.

When it was time for us to go, we went through the waiting room where the parents were impatiently longing to hear news about their kids. How much I wished I spoke mandarin at that moment, but all I could do is share a huge smile with them, making them feel that whatever I saw in there was great, that their kids were more than ok and before they could imagine, theywould be able to see them again.

On our train back to Shanghai I thought to myself how being part of these small surgeries had touched me in such way. It was not about the surgery, it was about being part of that day, it was about the Western doctors coming to Asia to help, it was about the parent’s who probably never thought they could afford taking care of their kid’s cleft lips and now they were here, their “prayers were answered” in some way. It was about us being in China trying to make a difference by documenting this and sharing it with an audience so that they know that in this world where news full of negativity invade our newspapers and TV’s there are still some news that will bring comfort to our souls. Smiles for our hearts brought smiles to our hearts. I hope it brings a smile for yours as well >>> Photos

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