Jeanette says…

The following post is from our student Jeanette, recently nicknamed JJ by Helen.  She discusses her experiences on our most recent trip from the lens of re-entry to regular life.  Post-mission blues is a serious disorder!  Please enjoy her moving retelling of the mission.

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La gente, the people

In the comfort of my own home, I realize I’m diagnosing myself with my first Medical Mission Trip withdrawal. In retrospect, the mission was life altering and most of the impact was made by la gente, the people, I met on the trip. Small or tall, these people etched each of their names into a special place within me.

To begin, the Healing the Children team was incredible. It was a large gathering of diverse people, all vastly knowledgeable in their own field. From the talented photographers who captured each smile and hug, nurses and doctors who stopped at nothing to ensure each case was a success story. I cannot forget to mention an anesthesiologist who allowed two lowly speech graduate students (myself and Bruna) to overlook amazing surgeries and shadow a case for a day while explaining every step of the process thoroughly. Furthermore, professors became mentors who paved a path of knowledge even deeper within my growing and inquisitive speechie mind. Each client we consulted gave me the opportunity to piece together their individual puzzle, putting what I’ve leaned in the classroom to work, in a real life setting. The education fostered within these days will forever go unmatched and irreplaceable. The bonds shared over delicious Colombian cuisine on a mountaintop restaurant, stories shared between roommates or humbling open- door bus rides cannot be explained.

Being back in America is no treat without UNIMA, a 21 year old organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life and help place a smile back on to children and young people who present genetic problems such as cleft lip and palates. UNIMA helps families whom are among the most vulnerable populations in Colombia, through the coordination of actions with professionals and national and international institutions, such as Healing the Children. This organization is ran by women who enforce the idea that ladies are “poderosa y hermosa,” powerful and beautiful. These amazing ladies catered to our team endlessly, tirelessly and passionately. We each brought snacks from the states, expecting long, hungry days at the hospital. We were pleasantly greeted every single day with coffee, pastelitos,  pastries and lunches fit for kings and queens. They took great care in making sure that even clients who weren’t there for surgeries saw the speech team, because they were aware of how important speech therapy is. Their newest goal for their patients are to enable more access to speech therapy services, which is groundbreaking in Colombia within itself. How I wish to have packed the UNIMA team up in my luggage, but alas, I was only allowed a carry on!

On the frontline of this trip were many parents who fought for their children to be screened and hoped for the surgeries that would ensure a better life. These parents often traveled hours to Santa Marta despite their limited resources, but all with a common goal: to help their children. The parents on this trip often left me speechless, humbled and in tears. The gratitude in their eyes, in the strength of their hugs and in the power of their words will never leave me. One parent wished for God to kiss our toes and hands to help us continue our work in helping children like hers. These parents solidified my thought that my main purpose here on earth is to help as many people in any way I can. The resilience in each parent showed me that no matter where you’re from, anything is possible if you fight for it.

Finally and most importantly, each and every child that I came across had hope, power and love gushing from their bodies. Each hug and every wide eye and smiling face looking up at me motivated my soul.The bright smile that would flash across their faces when we showed them a trick to enhance their speech was such an intrinsic, powerful feeling. I felt super human at times- Jeanette Torres, Super Speechie! In retrospect, it was the children who were superheroes in their own right, not I. I guess that’s the thing with super heroes: they have the ability to make you feel as important as they are.

Para la gente, to the people who involved in all aspects of the trip, thank you endlessly.

 

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About Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz

Shari is a speech language pathologist and assistant professor of communication disorders at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
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