More Than Words: Podcast Highlights Mission Bonds

Sure, when you think of a podcast, you think of engaging conversation. But when members of our College Leadership Council took a stab at making their own Operation Smile-based podcast, they highlighted instead the nonverbal communication that makes a medical mission so special.

It all started with a WhatsApp message and a link.

In their group chat, members of Student Programs’ College Leadership Council (CLC) had already been musing about creating an Operation Smile-themed podcast. So when a link to National Public Radio’s Student Podcast Challenge was posted in the chat, it was only natural to get right to work — even though none of them had ever made one before.

With a love for Operation Smile and a zeal for trying something new, a small team of CLC members from a handful of U.S. states worked together for weeks to put together a podcast that would, hopefully, capture the organization’s impact and introduce it to a new audience.

When the team got to business, they found themselves sharing the experiences they had as high schoolers, when they served as health care educators on medical missions.

“Our group wanted to choose a topic that would allow for multiple people to offer their own insight and draw from personal experiences about how Operation Smile has impacted their lives and how Operation Smile volunteers impact their patients,” said Amy Lawson, a member of the CLC from North Carolina who spearheaded the podcast effort. “When discussing medical missions, an important theme that arose was communication. Many students navigated communication barriers on their medical trips, and connecting without words is a valuable lesson for all of us as we seek to understand each other and build relationships.”

The CLC team said they made really precious friendships during their medical missions, bonding with patients and their families despite speaking different languages. That’s when they realized they had a theme for their podcast: the “Unspoken Language of the Heart.”

(We could tell you more about the stories they shared, but we want to encourage you to listen to them via the podcast instead.)

With the content nailed down, the CLC team looked to the nuts and bolts of a podcast setup.

First things first, they needed a narrator to guide their audience through their storytelling. They tapped CLC member Shayla Gramajo of New York for this unique role, after a staff member had complimented her grace facilitating a question-and-answer session during a recent conference. The staff member said Shayla could host her own talk show one day — and here came the opportunity to host a podcast for a national contest.

“As a narrator of this podcast, I felt inspired to introduce and empower the mission of Operation Smile and the student leaders,” said Shayla, who attends Manhattan College. “I had never been a part of a podcast before, so I was interested to see how the process would go,” She “learned that the pace and the tone of your voice are essential.”

While the content and narrator seemed to come together naturally for the podcast team, they had their fair share of curveballs.

“Music and editing were a challenge, but we combatted this by relying on each other’s strengths,” said Amy, who studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We reached out to someone who is passionate about music to design our intro song and looked for editing advice from others with more experience. Always be willing to ask for help and learn from others,” she said.

With intro music prepared just for the podcast by a band recommended by a fellow CLC member, the podcast was complete and ready.

While their podcast ultimately didn’t get a nod from NPR, the team said they learned a lot and were glad they took up the opportunity to spread the word about Operation Smile.

“Don’t hesitate to share what you are passionate about!” a tip Amy said she’d share with anyone looking to use this unique medium.

“Making a podcast may seem challenging, but using your voice and helping others share theirs is integral to creating meaningful conversations,” said Amy.

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