Malawi Mission 2017 – Gift of life

Charity Registration number: 1091316

In April of 2017, Richard Ingle, one of our trustees, booked himself on a flight to Malawi to experience first-hand a medical mission by Operation Smile. A grant from The Kentown Wizard Foundation funded the mission to operate on children with cleft conditions.

Here is Richard’s story…

Four months prior to my arrival in Southern Malawi, a two man Malawian team had travelled around the villages to identify around 200 potential patients who were willing to attend the mission for surgery. I was informed that around 80 of these children would be rejected at the screening process due to malaria, malnutrition or other medical issues.

The Operation Smile team consists of 66 people from around the world including 10 surgeons, 5 of them being Malawian. They are immensely proud, committed and considerably loyal to Operation Smile. They feel privileged to be part of this team and to give their time and expertise to a nation that has so little.

Cleft conditions are life threatening. It causes malnutrition as the child cannot eat normally and babies cannot breastfeed. Speech is impaired which can damage brain development. Cleft problems also result in social stigma and exclusion from village life.

I visit the shelter where the families are staying. It is a boarding school in term time but, presently, its April and therefore school holidays. They are being brought here by bus and together with mothers and other family members there are around 450 in total.

The head paediatrician tells me that the two-day screening which is taking place is a difficult time due to the scarcity of historical medical records for the children.

Everywhere is bustling and I see the volunteer nurses who are stacking and unpacking boxes of medical supplies and cleansing the two small operating rooms the best they can (there are 19 nurses on this mission). Sadly, the hospital is in a poor state of repair with flaking paint on the walls, concrete floors and grubby operating tables under broken theatre lights. I discover i’m going to witness a most resourceful theatre team who conduct surgery using portable lamps strapped to the surgeons forehead.

Malawians rise with the sun and day one begins at 05:45am. After a breakfast briefing, we leave the hotel and all move off to the hospital. There are 5 surgical teams and procedures will continue over the next 5 days. Each surgical procedure takes either 45 minutes or 90 minutes depending whether it will be for a cleft lip or a full palate repair. There is a target therefore of 125 operations. I have been advised to stay away from the operating rooms this first day as the surgical teams are stressed. They have never worked together before and are familiarising themselves with their equipment, surroundings and their respective team members.

I take the opportunity to explore the hospital further. There is a post-op recovery room where the children rest prior to being reunited with their mothers. The mothers then carry them to the far end of the hospital to a ward, where they will all remain under close observation.

In the waiting room, the mothers are dressed in the most colourful, sarong style outfits and I note how elegant and straight they stand. Is this from carrying things on their heads or is it from transporting their babies on their backs?

Outside the painted blue and white hospital, another bus arrives from the shelter with more children and their families. It will soon be time for their life changing surgery

A long first day ends for the team around 10:00pm in the evening and this schedule continues for a further four days. One mothers reaction after her sons operation was very emotional as she tells me she is now able to walk alongside her fellow villagers instead of behind them. How can you put a price on this?

I leave Malawi knowing The Kentown Wizard Foundation have funded this mission, where these life changing operations have been completed and a legacy of medical expertise has been passed on to the Malawian team so that they may address ongoing cleft problems, carrying on the good work.

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Operation Smile