Longtime Operation Smile volunteer Tessa Genit poses for a photo with her new friend during a past medical mission. (Photo courtesy of Tessa Genit)

Editor’s note: The U-Voice student storyteller program trains undergraduate student volunteers how to be reporters during medical missions. They interview patients as well as both medical and nonmedical volunteers, take their portraits, and write up their stories to share with the world.

By Sol Sanchez, U-Voice student storyteller

Tessa Genit was already serving her community when she first heard about Operation Smile back in 2011. From working at a school to helping with social work, Genit said she was just enjoying the opportunity to share her time with others.

But it wasn’t until she joined Operation Smile in 2014 that she adopted volunteering as a way of life.

The opportunity to interact with a patient and their family, the opportunity to walk by the patient’s side through all the stages of the help they receive — this changed her way of seeing the world and living her life. Having been a student adviser for five years, Tessa has seen how Operation Smile has an impact of everyone  from giving both a child and their family the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, to giving a student the chance to see life from a different perspective.

“The act of offering help to someone in need is like a circle,” she said. “Where everyone gets something … and something good. At the same time, we are improving someone’s life by providing safe surgery, we are giving a volunteer the tools to develop abilities such as leadership, empathy, commitment and the concern for humanity we want to find in youth nowadays.”

Through many years, Tessa has seen how building these skills in a student definitely makes them a better person and a better professional in the future, no matter the field he or she chooses.

Having been to many International Student Leadership Conferences, Tessa Genit has been a mentor for countless Operation Smile student volunteers in Paraguay and beyond. (Photo courtesy of Tessa Genit)

Through many years, Tessa has seen how building these skills in a student definitely makes them a better person and a better professional in the future, no matter the field he or she chooses.

She has participated in several national and international missions and has gotten to know many patients and volunteers, but it was a particular girl from Panamá named Rihanna who made her especially grateful for having Operation Smile in her life. They share a friendship that has lasted through many years now, and Tessa is still amazed by the way Rihanna’s life has changed after receiving surgery and exceptional care by the team at Fundación Operación Sonrisa Panamá.

That is how Operation Smile builds bridges around the world  with a smile.

Sanchez is an Operation Smile volunteer from Asunción, Paraguay, who’s studying speech pathology at the Universidad Católica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. She will attend her first international medical mission as a U-Voice student storyteller in 2019.