From Scarsdale, New York to David, Panama: Coming Full Circle

Story by Dena Salehipour

Photo by Juanjo Marin

In Panama, Daphne got to meet the people she was rooting for back in Scarsdale, New York.

After years of stepping up as a leader for Operation Smile in her region, the student volunteer’s experience went full-circle when she earned the opportunity to attend a program in David, Panama.

Daphne took some time to share her story with us to inspire the next generation of Operation Smile student leaders. 

Operation Smile Student Programs: How was it coming from a country that does fundraising and to a country that has hands on the job?

DL: Yeah, it’s it’s definitely been a really cool experience to watch everything come to life because I think back home, we have our (Regional Leadership Council) meetings and we have our fundraising, but actually being here and meeting the people that we’re helping from back home, it has truly been kind of surreal in a sense because at least for me, like the past four years, just working for them and advocating for them from home and to actually meet these people, it’s really awesome.

OS: I think that you said how important our job is and we, as Student Programs, always say how important the students are, but now being able to leave that experience and to actually know how important you are on these programs, how do you feel about it?

DL: It’s just been really amazing, I think, meeting so many new people just from Operation Smile, but also people here in Operation Smile Panama. It’s been awesome. I really think it’s like, we always say, a global family. And I think that’s true. But just being here, I think meeting with local students, too, and all of us just having that similar goal of making sure that these kids are loved and they’re getting everything they deserve. It’s just been really awesome.

OS: And having that full-circle moment, you know from fundraising in your club and RLC to creating awareness, did you have the chance to bond with any special patients that you have in mind?

DL: Yeah, I really bonded with Carlos. It’s funny, because of the masks, you can’t really obviously see the faces they’re making, but you can always tell from the eyes and I could tell that he was smiling. We got to color, play catch, and just laugh. And then he went into surgery. But today, when I walked into post-op and he immediately went up to me and remembered me and then we got to play some more. It was really awesome getting to send him home with a new smile. 

OS: Do you think that there’s a specific moment where you realized that?

DL: Yeah, when we went to the indigenous area in the school, I noticed that some of the kids didn’t even really know what we were giving them. I had a moment too, where I looked and some of them didn’t have shoes on and if they did have shoes, they were either not theirs or they were like Crocs, and back home that’s pretty rare to see a kid wearing to school. So having those experiences of just knowing that these are kids out there and what we’re doing back home to help them and things like that. 

OS: And now that we are looking for work, what would you say to the people that are thinking of applying to this program?

DL: Do it! I think it just truly, truly just motivates you even more to keep doing your work with Operation Smile. Because like I said before, you truly meet the people that you’re rooting for back home and there’s nothing like it.