Ghana

 
 
Trinity has participated in many mission trips over the years. Click a location to learn more.
 

Family Across the Atlantic

     On January 14th, Kylie DeBoer embarked on a two week Operation Smile medical mission to Tamale, Ghana where families traveled for days just to have a chance at surgery. 155 patients were screened and 83 surgeries were ultimately completed. As one of two students on this mission, Kylie’s role was to educate patients and assist with pre/post op care. This is her story. On screening day, I was surrounded by a swarm of anxious mothers, fathers, cousins, and friends clinging onto the edge of every word. My mission partner and I were simply recalling the basic nutrition, safety, and hygiene information we had learned in elementary school. The people listened to me as if I was one of the Operation Smile surgeons who might operate on their child. I did not realize the impact of these lessons until an elderly grandmother at the end of a presentation told me that she had not known the information and was extremely grateful that students from the United States took the time to educate her. Then the woman assured me that when she returned to her home she would share this knowledge with her entire village. I was awestruck, that even during this intense time of uncertainty, the adults kindly expressed their appreciation for the student team.

 
     My eyes stung from dust and tears only two days later as I led a group of patients across the arid, continuous landscape clutching a white slip of paper branded with the letter “H”. For them this represents a disheartening trip to the hospital. For them this represents a wearisome journey home. My heart tightened with overwhelming sadness for those who could not receive surgery because of malnutrition or infection. Simultaneously, I whispered a sigh of relief and joy for all of the sweet, optimistic children waiting back at the patient shelter for the upcoming week of operations.
 

     Surgery week overflowed with action, each moment life-changing. Miracles happened everywhere I looked. As I brought each set of four patients from the pre/post-op ward to child life throughout the day, the nervous tension of surgery day radiated from the patients. Donated crafts and games eased their worries, and collected toys calmed wailing babies. I carried one little boy named Bernard from the pre/post-op ward to child life and again to the OR. I was there right before he went into surgery and after he was released from surgery. I delivered him to his mother and saw the happiness on her face the first time she saw her child after the growth over his eye had been removed. I walked them both back to the pre/post-op ward, and Bernard gripped my hand until he fell asleep. I witnessed the surgery of a cleft lip, a momentous experience I never dreamt would occur. My mission partner and I visited four schools in Tamale, handing out toothbrushes and changing lives as we encouraged them to do the same. In the course of one week, we reached over 100 local students inspiring them to volunteer and make a difference in the lives of the people in Tamale.

     By the end of the surgery week, the patient shelter was my home and all the people staying there my family. Everyone was elated to see me as I walked up the dust path to the shelter for the last time. As they all grinned at me calling “my sister, my sister”, I smiled back, having adopted their friendly culture in just a few fleeting days, and greeted them as customary in Twi-“Nah.” Seconds after, I was encircled by children eager to play, tugging at my backpack. As I unveiled a beach ball, I paused to absorb the scene. There stood in front of me a gathering of Ghanaian children, no different from American children or Chinese children or Italian children, that no longer had cleft lips, cleft palates, or other birth deformities. Now they could eat and drink naturally and interact with other children without exclusion or judgment. A wave of emotion poured over me, almost enveloping me in a swell of tears, over the amazing work the doctors had performed and the gut-wrenching reality of our departure the next day. Instead, I pulled everyone into a tight hug and picked up Bernard. Reluctant to let go, I squeezed him against my chest, knowing I would remember him and the rest of the children forever and only hoping the same were true for them.

     I never could have imagined that I would fly to Ghana and spend nine days at the Tamale Teaching Hospital watching the lives of patients and their families transform right along with mine. After attending leadership conferences, mission training, fundraising and collecting donations for three previous missions that were ultimately false alarms, the two year wait and roller coaster of emotions paled in comparison to the unforgettable experience of an Operation Smile medical mission. My heart is still in Tamale, distributed among the 78 patients and their loved ones. The Ghanaian people have given me my voice, and just as they thanked me for my service, I owe a deep gratitude to the people of Tamale for showing me kindness and allowing me to share their stories as my own. In spite of the fact that a mission is focused on the metamorphosis of the patients, it was impossible for me to leave Tamale unchanged. I gave hope to those who believed they were forgotten, and in turn, they taught me that I am unforgettable.