A Special High-Five
Story by Dena Salehipour
Photo by Juanjo Marin
Katey Coleman would have never thought that something as simple as a high five would mean so much to her, but her time in Panama changed that.
“We were at a school in Soloy, and it was a three-second encounter, but there was this school girl walking past all of us and we were giving everyone high fives,” recounted the student volunteer from New Jersey. “I don’t think she really realized it was a high five, and she was just kind of touching our hands. She walked past me and she touched my hand and looked right at me and I just looked into her eyes and I was like, oh, my God. I was so moved by that one, that one, experience. Over the course of the week, I’ve always been coming back to that memory. I feel like I’ve learned so much about humanity and the world around me from it.”
Read more about Katey’s time in Panama, the insight she has gained, and her recommendations for students interested in going on an Operation Smile surgical mission.
Operation Smile: Coming from a country that does fundraising for surgical programs, how does that make you feel to be attending one right now?
Katey Coleman: I mean, it’s very different. None of the actual happenings are going on in the U.S. So I’ve never been exposed to anything quite like this.
OS: And what do you think that you’re taking back to your club now?
KC: I’m actually not really part of a club but rather a local group. I definitely have so much more information to contribute, especially to those who are interested in doing a surgical program. I feel like there’s the idea of doing a surgical program, there’s certain information that you assume and gather, but there’s so much insight that you can only get from people who have done it before. So I feel like there’s so much perspective that I can give people now that I’m really grateful for.
OS: Do you see any changes in yourself during this week?
KC: Honestly, I feel like over the course of the week, I’ve become much more gentle in a way. I feel like a lot of people at home would never describe me that way. But I feel like being surrounded by children in need of care and support, and me feeling so happily obligated to give that to them. I feel like it’s really changed how I’ve been interacting with other people, which I think is really great. I’ve learned so much more about humans as a whole.
OS: And to the people that are thinking of applying for the next program, what would you say to them?
KC: I would say 100 percent do it, I feel like it’s such a great experience to have, and I definitely want to do another program if I get the opportunity after this. I think that it’s really perspective-changing. I know like a lot of people say that after they go on programs, but I genuinely do believe that’s true. I feel especially like when you are someone like me, and you come from like a small town in New Jersey and you haven’t really seen much other than that, it’s just so like eye-opening and important to learn about world around you. That’s been something that I’ve been wanting to do and to travel and see new places and meet new people. I just think it’s really great and opening myself up to a brand-new culture and a brand-new language. I feel so much more open-minded now, and I feel like all I really want to do is just be able to learn more.