I struggle to find words to convey how deeply humbling it is for me to spend time with the children at the hospital. One look into their eyes and I immediately see and feel their entire experience of living with a cleft lip or palate. I sense their pain, frustration and anxiety. I also sense their courage, patience, hope and joy.

Tamara-5894 800x

This touches my heart beyond expression and I feel honored to bear witness to it. This is my first trip on a medical mission with Rotaplast. I am an early childhood educator and pre-school director so it seemed natural for me to volunteer to be with the children before and after surgery playing, connecting, creating and laughing together.

However, on my first morning I found myself feeling unsure and concerned as I walked toward the children’s ward. Would the children want to spend time playing with me, or would they be too worried to leave their rooms or parents? How would we communicate with each other with only a few obscure Spanish words in my repertoire?

As I walked down the hallway, peeking through their room windows, I smiled and waved to the children and their parents. They smiled and waved back at me, reminding me that with true communication no words are necessary. I got halfway down the hall before I felt little arms hugging my waist. Turning around I saw a pretty eleven-year-old girl smiling up at me with bright brown eyes. I hugged her back and Bezabeth and I walked hand-in-hand back to the play area.

Tamara-5904 800x

Her personality is as bright as her eyes and although the other children came and went as they wanted, Bezabeth stayed by my side until she was called to surgery in the afternoon. She read Spanish children’s books to me and had me repeat words, correcting me as needed. She colored over a dozen pictures for me with both of our names written on them encircled with hearts. We joked around with each other, laughing and hugging.

The next morning my first visit was to Bezabeth’s room. She lay in her bed with a white bandage wound around her head, dried blood showing through below her right ear. There were stitches around her nose and lip, oozing a bit. An IV was in her arm and she looked exhausted and in pain. I touched her arm gently and she looked up at me and said hello with her eyes. I kissed her cheek and left her to rest.

No way would I see her in the play area today, I thought to myself as I headed that way. Half an hour later, in came Bezabeth. Slowly, being helped along by her mother, she made her way toward me – IV and all. She sat down beside me and leaned on my shoulder. I held her and this time I read her favorite book in Spanish to her. I knew she was in pain and would be more comfortable in bed but she wanted to stay with me. So together we sat until she was discharged. We said good-bye the same way we met – in the hall – hugging each other.

Tamara Leider, Recreational Therapist