Shreyasee’s Story 

More than words: University student serves as a translator during medical missions, helping to build bridges and connect hearts.

Photos and stories by Nicholas Nottage, U-Voice student storyteller

When she closes her eyes, Shreyasee can still see the way the mother’s face lit up.

It was a beautiful end to the most difficult experience of her first medical mission. As a translator for Operation Smile, she had to tell a patient’s family that their child may not receive surgery due to a health complication. Illness, malnutrition, underlying conditions – these make surgery unsafe, and Operation Smile provides every potential patient an extensive health screening to ensure the patient can receive surgery safely.

“The family was heartbroken, the mother and father were upset and angry since they had traveled so far,” Shreyasee recalled.

Her attempts to comfort them were met with more frustration. However, at the end of the week, a surgeon cleared the child for surgery, and witnessing the mother’s happiness has stayed with Shreyasee ever since.

Shreyasee, a third-year English honors student attending Durgapur Women’s College, was a part of the incredible group of local volunteer translators serving the Durgapur medical mission in February. They serve as an important link between the volunteer medical professional doctors and patients, explaining procedures, easing nerves and connecting on a personal level.

The February 2020 mission was Shreyasee’s second experience with Operation Smile, her first being in 2018. She connected with the organization as a member of the National Social Service group at her college, which sends volunteers to several programs in Durgapur. 

“I felt like I would work well in the mission, I am a very emphatic and emotional person who can easily mix with people,” Shreyasee said. “I love talking with people, getting to know their difficulties and empathising with them.” 

When she arrived at the cleft center, Shreyasee said she was surprised by the large number of volunteers from all over the world who took time out of their lives to come to Durgapur and provide safe surgery to those who needed it. She did not expect how easily she would connect with the volunteers from cultures different than her own.

“We can always help our own relatives, friends, neighbors … that is part of our responsibility,” Shreyasee said. “But when we help people who don’t belong to family or friends, that is when you know the real nature of a person,” “In the last mission in 2018, when I saw the number of people who came with Operation Smile, I was flooded with emotions. I felt so good! I felt like there are a lot of good people left in this world and this is the example.”

Afterward, Shreyasee kept in touch with the local team in case they ever had need for volunteers. When she got the call about the mission in Durgapur, she was ecstatic to volunteer during a mission again. 

Her favorite part of the mission is playing with the patients in the child-life room, since she believes making the patients comfortable is crucial, especially in a challenging environment.

“My parents have always told me that sometimes people don’t talk to you for solving problems, they talk to you to relieve their mind of stress and anxiety,” Shreyasee recalled.

She sees her parents words coming into reality while on these medical missions.

“That is why I always want to be in the child-care unit, because at that very moment, just before the operation, people are the most stressed. I like distracting their mind to try to ease their nerves through conversation,” Shreyasee said. 

Nicholas, a longtime Operation Smile student volunteer, is studying biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He hopes to attend dental school.