A lush tropical breeze gently blows as I sit writing on the veranda of the hotel at the  military base that is our home for the next two weeks. It feels so much better to relax in the evening darkness than in the flourescent light of the overly air-conditioned room. A lively mix of cheers, laughter and salsa reaches me from the base personnel below who are playing bolas criollas (bocci ball) and basketball.

An opening clinic is always a chaotic, stressful and exciting day and today's was no exception. For twelve hours, prospective patients and their families passed through varioius stations to be evaluated by nurses, surgeons, pediatricians and dentists. When we arrived at 6:30 this morning, our team was greeted with a wave-style ovation as we walked past families already lined up, some having arrived the previous night.

Now in its twelfth year, the Barquisimeto Rotaplast mission draws families from four states. Those coming from rural areas travel by buses for up to 10 hours for life changing operations. The local support for the mission is most impressive. About 50 to 60 local volunteers are on hand for the opening clinic, drawn from Rotary, Rotaract and Interact Clubs and friends.

As families waited in a shaded, outdoor corridor for up to six hours, volunteers kept the children amused with everything from face painting to balloon creations. Snacks and beverages were also dispensed. Owing to the maturity of Rotaplast in Barquisimeto, there were many patients returning for additional procedures. Optimal treatment of cleft lips and palates is complex and can take multiple surgeries, along with dental work and speech therapy. The team is ready for our first patients bright and early tomorrow.

Jerry Meshulam, Photojournalist

There was about 300 lineal feet of waiting area to accommodate all the families.