September 16, 07:30
Train, Commute to work
I received a call the other day which I did not anticipate; an offer to travel with a group of volunteers to Asunción, Paraguay. I had been involved with Operation Smile for the past three years, helping with various activities from leading a donation effort to South Africa to participating in charitable events (i.e bake sales, auctions, and a 5k run). Unexpectedly, this call was to join a global team of Johnson & Johnson employees, eight in total, for the first ever Operation Smile / J&J global mission. A commitment had to be given in less than 24 hours, and I wasn’t even sure where Asunción was located.
I had never been to South America before, and had always focused on more accessible areas near me in the US and EU. I confirmed with my family and my boss, and said yes! With less than three weeks to plan, I had no idea what to expect. Planning and preparing for other trips (vacations, business trips, family visits, etc.) are easy, which I guess comes with experience. We are to support a surgical mission in an unfamiliar part of the world. Temperatures range from 75 to 105 degrees, with sun and rain, while the CDC reports that mosquitos threaten with Dengue and Yellow fever, as well as Malaria. The water: undrinkable. Intestinal bugs appear inevitable.
One of the greatest unknowns for me is the emotional involvement. Children and young adults will be screened to be eligible to undergo surgery for cleft lip, palate or both. Which means some will not be eligible. A part of me has wanted to be placed in an environment which challenges me emotionally in an anticipation to bring me a deeper value of what I have in this world and my own sense of purpose.
Water and Uncertainty
September 21, 07:30
Train, Commute to work
I am almost paranoid about the water. I’ve heard you can’t drink it without getting sick, and yet, it is everywhere. Have you ever tried to shower without it getting in or near your mouth? Not a single drop? Or after washing your hands, try not to rub your face, nose or lips. It is nearly impossible! We take our clean water for granted in North America and Europe. An essential need, met. I’m not sure how I will fair, but I’m only planning on drinking bottled anything and well cooked food. No attempts would be made to eat healthy on this trip only boiled, baked or fried.
There is stress in not knowing what to expect. Not necessarily the unknown, but the hope and anticipation that all will go well. I leave on Thursday, three flights and twenty-six hours to get there, a passport with an envelope containing two hundred US Dollars to obtain a visa, to be picked up by someone on the other end whom I have never met.
Two and a half weeks may not be enough time to fully prepare for travel to a place that was not previously on the radar. I’ve looked at the CDC, WHO, Embassies (US and Paraguayan), had doctor visits, checked packing lists, bought incidentals, medication, and some gifts for kids.
I’ve checked food names and descriptions, read about moto-men, consulted family and friends, and friends of family and have found that I don’t know how or what to say to people about this trip.
I also like taking photos, but this is different. Photos of people, particularly patients, is an invasion of personal space and yet a story in the context towards improving someone’s life. It’s a perspective with an attempt to cross language and cultural barriers, and yet, I feel that photography in this situation is to selfishly take a moment to serve one’s own interest, as a photographer. Perhaps that is why I don’t take pictures of people when I travel. I certainly do not want to be insensitive.
The views expressed on this website/blogpost are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer or Operation Smile. The author encourages your help and support by donating to support medical missions by Operation Smile via this link: http://support.operationsmile.org/goto/schoutens
This blogpost-series are pages of my personal journal leading up to and during my first medical mission to Asunción, Paraguay. I hope this series encourages you to serve global communities and/or donate to an wonderful organization that improves the lives of children and families around the world!