• Reflections – Cliff Mitchell

    I have been involved in the Aussi Bangla Smile Project since it was conceived (with no plan and no resources). I have not yet been to Bangladesh because I do not have the medical knowledge and skills required of a surgical team member. Nevertheless Hasan has asked me to write my ‘reflections’.

    After almost five years of gradual improvement and refinement, the project is now quite stable and sustainable with continuing support from the Australian community. There is no shortage of medically skilled volunteers to work in Bangladesh or of non-medical volunteers to support the project both in Australia and in Bangladesh.

    My role is to support the project here in Australia with voluntary financial, technical, and management services. Currently my main contributions are to maintain this website, produce six-monthly financial statements, and provide technical support for presentations and fundraising activities – especially the Trivia Nights. In fact, like other family and friends of team members, I find myself doing all sorts of little things to support the teams from writing articles to humping boxes of medical supplies around. Perhaps the project’s other non-medical volunteers can relate when I say that much of this back-room work can be invisible, tedious, time-consuming, frustrating, and very remote from the action in Bangladesh – but it’s worth it.

    I know it’s worth it when each team returns with photos of scores of parents and carers queued up waiting for their child’s pre-op check with a mixture of apprehension and hope in their eyes. They must be uncertain of the outcome but prepared to gamble for a better life for their child. They probably don’t know that, mostly due to the skills of the anaesthetists and anaesthetic and recovery nurses, all of the teams’ patients have survived their surgery with positive outcomes. They probably don’t know that mostly because of the skills of the scrub and scout nurses, the teams have not had a single instance of post-op infection. They may only know that, because of the skills of the surgeons, many children with gross cleft lips and palates have emerged from their operations with beautiful new smiles.

    Mostly I know it’s worth it when I see photos of parents after their child’s surgery. Often the children are upset and not smiling yet at all. They do not understand what has happened, but their parents’ smiles are filled with relief and joy. Even though the stitches are still visible and their child’s lips are swollen around a fresh wound, they can see an immediate improvement. They realise that the swelling will soon disappear, as will the stitches and the wound, leaving their child more beautiful than before and prepared for a much brighter future. Even the team members in Bangladesh rarely get to see what their fully recovered patients look like – so perhaps that is a bit frustrating for them too.

    It is absolutely worth it to know that hundreds of people’s future prospects have been so radically improved – even if you are not directly involved in the process or if you don’t get to see the final outcome.

    Cliff Mitchell

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