The Power of Service

Student volunteer Yanik Sitta reflects on his involvement with Operation Smile, his experience at ISLC, and what it has all meant to him.

By Nick Ciuffreda, Student Programs Media Intern

It’s not every week you find yourself surrounded by more than 350 international student volunteers who want to change the world. 

This is where Yanik Sitta found himself when he attended Operation Smile’s International Student Leadership Conference in 2019, which took place at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 

Though it took him almost a full day of traveling from Paraguay to the U.S., he had never felt so empowered and so comfortable once the conference started. He was happy to be surrounded by people who, like him, are working to make a difference.

They even got a chance to do just that at the conference: For their annual service project, ISLC participants made candy bags for the nurses and doctors serving the craniofacial center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“It was amazing to see how so many people from so different countries were excited to be in one project helping other people that they don’t even know,” Yanik said. “I felt it (was) really powerful.”

Yanik got involved with Operation Smile by chance. When his best friend couldn’t make a meeting with Operation Smile club presidents in 2018, he insisted that Yanik go instead.  

“At the moment I arrived I already knew that it was something special. I knew that I was going to like it,” he said about his first time being around Operation Smile volunteers. “The people I met in that meeting was just amazing. … Ever since that moment, I went all in.”

Yanik has been part of the local volunteer team for three international missions in Asuncion. He has also served as the representative for Paraguay on Operation Smile’s Latin American student board, where he was in charge of all university volunteers locally and regionally. 

Similar to previous ISLCs, Operation Smile Co-Founders Bill and Kathy Magee gave a powerful keynote speech to the students attending the 2019 conference in North Carolina. 

“Everytime they speak, it’s just like I want to be a better person and I want to change the world,” said Yanik, who was the president of his high school club during his senior year.

As a big sports fan, Yanik said some of his favorite memories of ISLC 2019 are from Team Games, a field day where the students play many different sports activities. 

He also really enjoyed the “good vibes” he got from his team during the huddles, and he loved getting to know his international roommates from New York, Vietnam, Virginia, and Korea. 

Yanik recently started his university studies in the Netherlands.

Nick is studying business at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He’s been involved with Operation Smile since he was in the Lawrence High School club in New Jersey and attended a medical mission in the Dominican Republic in 2019.