Our faces when we put together our first-ever all-virtual ISLC. (Carlos Rueda - Operation Smile photo)

Bringing Peru to You

It’s just one of those milestones of our new reality: This July, we would have been together in Peru for our annual International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC). And while we’re already looking forward to gathering in Lima in 2021, we realized something.

We’re Operation Smile — and we always find a way to bring people together.

That’s why, this week, we’re bringing Peru to you with an all-virtual, all-awesome mini digital ISLC hosted on Instagram @osstudpro

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Dr. Marcos Polar did not choose to be a pediatrician — it chose him, he said.

And just like he answered his calling to serve as a doctor, he answered the call when a fellow pediatrician invited him to take part in a medical mission with Operación Sonrisa Perú. 

In his Instagram Live conversation with the mini digi ISLC audience, Dr. Polar reflected on his medical career as well his 18 years of service (and countless missions) with Operation Smile, which took him across Peru as well as to India and the Philippines. 

“When I started with Operation Smile, I didn’t believe I could stay here for all this long time that I am now …” said Dr. Polar, who serves as the chief of the Neonatology Unit in the Hospital Nacional Dos de Mayo. “I didn’t imagine I could be making my work this way all around the world.”

It’s been a different world this year. When asked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected his work, Dr. Polar said “the challenge is for everybody.” At his hospital, he said “there are more children that are getting sick. (They) need more space, and sometimes the hospitals are not enough for all the patients.” 

Dr. Polar said Operation Smile student volunteers can definitely make a difference during this challenging time. 

“You are our support,” he told the Instagram Live audience. He recalled how much it meant to him and his colleagues when student volunteers offered to help his hospital and fundraise for essential equipment, such as monitors. 

Polar encouraged the audience to show their support for their communities’ medical staff because it lets them know “there is someone there for them, and it is very important at this time.”

Operation Smile Student Programs encourages its advocates to ride the momentum of our mini digi ISLC and take on a virtual service project to support hospital workers in their hometowns; project opportunities include #ServingSmiles to medical staff and making cards for Operation Smile medical volunteers working on the frontlines of the pandemic. 

As doctors, “we should be always ready to be available for the people,” Dr. Polar said. He values the emotional support doctors provide because “you can’t always fix all the problems that (patients) have, but you can listen to them. Sometimes, it is more than enough.” 

For students looking into pursuing a career in medicine, Dr. Polar’s had one word of advice: smile.

A career in the medical field “takes more time,” he said. “It takes more hours everyday for studying, for practicing. You have to develop all of your abilities that you have … to try to be the best.A smile makes the journey even better.

Chef Javier teaches us how to make authentic Peruvian ceviche! Here’s are the ingredients you need and steps you need to take!

The ingredients:
-Red onion
-Lemon drop pepper
-Whitefish
-Ginger
-Celery
-Coriander
-Lemon

Process:
1.) Cut the lemon drop pepper into small squares, cut the coriander, cut the onion at Julienne style, and keep the center of the onion.

2.) Cut the fish into 2 by 2 centimeter cubes

3.) In the blender, you have to put the ginger, lemon, leftover chili, celery, garlic, salt, the onion center and coriander stalks, pieces of fish

4.) Liquefy the ingredients at intervals of 10-15 seconds about 4 to 5 times, then strain it

5.) Then put the fish with the onion in a cold bowl, season with salt, put the cut coriander (only the herb), and the lemon drop pepper. And mix until the fish changes color to white

6.) Serve and enjoy!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Dani, pictured on the right, serves as the program and student programs coordinator for Operación Sonrisa Perú. (Courtesy photo)

Arriving at an Operation Smile medical mission in Peru, Dani was not only about to experience her first medical mission with the organization but also her first week at her new position at Operación Sonrisa Perú. 

Dani “fell in love with the organization from day one.” 

Now, about two years since her first day, Dani teamed up with Operation Smile Program Manager John Paul (JP) Lopez to share their stories via Instagram Live during Student Program’s first-ever mini virtual ISLC. Together, Dani and JP shared with us, in Dani’s words, “how students are important for every mission and program of Operation Smile.”

We really have a lot of support from our students,” said Dani, who works as the as the program and student programs coordinator. 

She commented on the importance of a positive environment where kids do not have to worry about their operations, and she said Operation Smile student volunteers “help to provide that environment and help the kids keep being kids.”

Dani and JP also discussed how impactful the ISLC experience is for high schoolers.

“To take that in as a student — I mean I couldn’t even imagine what that’s like, and being able to meet friends from across the world,” JP said.

Dani also mentioned the value of the students uniting for one cause: “They all want to help kids smile, and that feeling is awesome,” Dani said. 

When discussing their experiences with medical missions, JP said he loves “seeing the comfort of our medical volunteers … to provide that positive environment where the patients and families can trust us, which is so cool and empowering.” 

He also is thankful for their trust after the operation and appreciates the love and gratitude he feels from  “that connection when they get back together.” 

JP also spoke to his personal growth through working with the organization. He has been impacted most by seeing volunteers from all over the world come together for one cause.

“Sometimes there could be a language barrier, but everybody is striving for the same thing,” he said. Working for Operation Smile has “really just made a mark on my life.” 

JP and Dani spoke to the importance of student volunteers on missions and the impact of uniting together for a cause can save lives. 

“Once you gather people who have the same vision, you can be world-changers,” JP said.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Our friends Samantha and Sabrina Mendoza show us how to dance to the popular Peruvian song, the Chacombo, sung by Zambo Cavero!

At just 20 years old, Sabrina Murillo learned in a matter of seconds how precious life can be.

During a routine trip to get a cup of coffee, Sabrina, her sister, her boyfriend, and her father were involved in a tragic car accident that left her as the only survivor. Having lost part of her skull and her ability to smell, and with her spinal cord severely damaged, Sabrina has been paralyzed from the chest down. 

Despite the trauma from the accident that happened two-and-a-half years ago, Sabrina told Student Programs’ Instagram Live audience that she’s found ways to thrive and overcome any challenge in life. 

“I learned that life is not forever,” she said. “It has a beginning, it has an end, and we have to live it the best way that we can.”

It takes two things to thrive, Sabrina said. One is purpose, and the other is to “have a goal in your life,” she stated. “Have something to which you want to get to. For me, [this] was and is walking and being able to play again my favorite sport, which is soccer.”

Due to the injuries Sabrina endured, her doctors did not believe she would ever be able to walk again. But thanks to all the support she gets from her mom, her friends, and physical therapist, Sabrina is making significant progress toward that goal every day. Recently, she’s been able to walk with assistance during her rehab sessions! 

Sabrina, who is originally from Venezuela and lives in Panama, has now had to come to Florida to a neurological rehabilitation center so she can get the care she needs. 

Through her injury and the tough times we are currently in, she said she’s found a newfound appreciation for all the little things in life.

Her message for the audience: “You don’t have to wait for something terrible to happen like what happened to me in order to start appreciating things. You can just learn it, take advice from someone who has lived a tragedy and don’t wait.” 

Check out our @osstudpro IGTV to watch our interview with Sabrina! 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Longtime Operation Smile supporter Tessa Genit shows us how to make the yummy Peruvian snack, tequeños!

When he was a kid and his peers would talk about his nose, Javier Chueca Otero would turn the conversation around and say, “‘Yes, I have a different nose — so I can breathe a lot more than you.’”

That was the essential message of Javier’s Instagram Live conversation with Operation Smile Student Programs: Your difference is an advantage. 

Chueca Otero, a 22-year-old chef living in Peru, shared his story of growing up with a cleft lip and cleft palate with Operation Smile student volunteers during the organization’s first-ever all-virtual Mini Digi International Student Leadership Conference.

“Don’t think anything can stop you,” Javier told the audience.

Javier received a whole reconstruction of his superior lip two days after he was born. After the surgery, Javier’s mother had trouble feeding him. 

“I needed to drink approximately 30 ounces of milk a day, and I was drinking approximately five” before the surgery, Javier said. Surgery meant survival. 

And that surgery wasn’t the last. A year and a half later, Javier faced another operation and “got a total reconstruction of the superior lip and total closure of the palate on the gum,” which went smoothly until his surgical womb got infected days after the operation. A few years later, another operation was to follow. In addition to his operations, he said he’s had braces, clamps — “anything I could have ever have in my mouth.”

Nothing can stop Javier from accomplishing what he sets his mind to. He’s a person who likes to take on challenges; for example, when as a young student he decided to play the flute, even though it can it can be a difficult instrument to play with a healed cleft. Additionally, he’s played for the Peruvian water polo team, and he graduated from university last year after studying Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management.

“I have achieved anything I could have ever wanted — don’t think anything can stop you,” Javier said. 

In the interview, Javier highlighted the importance of dentists and speech therapists for patients who have cleft conditions. He also mentions the continuous support and encouragement from his parents.

Javier’s mother tells him, “‘You have this but it will not stop you anytime.’” He’s also grateful for his friends, who’ve helped him develop good social skills and a solid self-esteem. 

When asked what Operation Smile student volunteers can do to best support the patients, he encouraged them to be comforting. 

Tell the patients that “It will be okay. It will be temporal. This will have a solution,” Javier suggested.

Javier is an inspiration and example of having a positive attitude and not letting obstacles stand in the way of following your dreams. 

Check out our @osstudpro IGTV to watch our interview with Javier! 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Operation Smile Student Programs staff share what they’re most looking forward to when we can all finally come together in Peru next July — and also offer up a teaser of the Peruvian *magia* you can look forward to THIS WEEK!

We also thought this was a fun opportunity to tell you more about the Peruvian beautiful sites (and yummy snacks!) our staff mention in this video. Check out this photo gallery to learn more!