Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wait, what are you doing?

When telling people what I was doing this year, I got this question more than I can tell you. So, let me give you the answer. I decided to take a gap year before going to college. High school got me a little burnt out and the college process got me a little frustrated so I decided this would be the perfect chance to go do something amazing that I was really passionate about.

It all began when I was in Middle School. Raffi Friedman, a high schooler at the time, gave a presentation on a medical mission trip she took with Operation Smile. I thought to myself, I have to do that. When I got to high school, I joined the Operation Smile club, which was under the direction of Ali Friedman (Raffi's little sister). My freshman year, Raffi gave a presentation on her medical mission to Guwahati, India. It was a "mega-mission," which means they did way more surgeries than a normal mission, because the cleft lip and cleft palette population was astoundingly high. Her pictures were beautiful and her stories stuck with me.


And so, I proceeded to go to three Operation Smile student conferences in Denver, Beijing, and Washington D.C. I came to Guwahati in November 2011 and fell in love with the Indian culture, the Indian people and the Operation Smile organization in India. (You can watch the video I made from the medical mission in November here).  It worked out for me to come back here for my gap year. I will be doing a bunch of different things (such as organizing research, helping out with patient records and so on).



Below is a little bit more about where I am and what I am doing...

Guwahati is located in Assam, which is in the very north east of India. Surrounding Assam are Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Here in Guwahati, the people speak Assamesse but in the vicinity there are hundreds of dialects. The population of Guwahati is 2,508,021.




Operation Smile repairs cleft lips and cleft palettes all around the world. A cleft lip is an opening in the upper lip and below the nose. A cleft palette is an opening on the roof of the mouth. The causes of clefts are unknown. However, most cleft patients come from developing countries because the mother is malnourished during pregnancy and the baby does not completely form. People with clefts cannot speak correctly, have a hard time drinking and eating, and are rejected from society. They often never go to school and their parents are ashamed to have them. In the United States, more babies have them than you think, but the problems are fixed within 3-6 months of birth. King Tut, Thomas Malthus, Jesse Jackson, Tom Brokaw, and Peyton Manning have all had clefts of some kind. Surprising, eh?



                                                         
     Top row cleft lips (left to right): Unilateral incomplete, unilateral complete, bilateral complete
Bottom row cleft palettes (left to right): Bilateral complete, unilateral complete, unilateral incomplete, 


 There is a cleft care center here that treats patients rock the clock. The Indian government has often refused to provide services to Assam in any form because it is so out of the way. But Operation Smile decided to build a permanent cleft care center on top of the MMC hospital here to show the government how to care.  



So Guwahati is where I live, Operation Smile is where I am working, and having the most amazing time of my life is what I am doing. 

Sending smiles from India, 
Hannah 




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