Polepole [pol-lay-poh-lay] is Swahili for “slowly” or “slow down” and could not describe more perfectly the lessons of Day 2 in Tanzania.  Still without luggage or supplies, the day started with a walk to Mount Meru Hospital where we took a tour of where we would perform our mission once supplies arrived.  We met the congenial local hospital staff and ironed out the details for how the hospital would be supporting Rotaplast in addition to their regular, expected workload of cases.

[Larry Tomsic (Recreation Therapist) asks a mother and child to take their picture and then proceeds to show and explain to the boy the photo of himself on the camera]

Next we drove to The Plaster House, a recovery center where the children we will treat for burns will be transported post-op for longer term care as their wounds heal.  On the way to The Plaster House we passed miles and miles of roads lined with different merchants’ shops, mini fruit and clothing markets spread out on the ground, ornately dressed women expertly balancing different crops on their head, men getting ready to take off on their motorcycles, children walking home from school, a bustling 8 miles of road with locals darting in and out of the traffic.  The people and entire scene was captivating, worth soaking in every moment.

We finally arrived at The Plaster House and met Sarah Rejman who explained the important work they do and their plans for expansion.  [Pictured L->R: Rosemary Davidson (Arusha Rotarian), Jann Johnson (Surgeon), Marguerite Fleming (PACU Assistant), Dennis Dundas (Medical Director), Rebecca Orlino (Anesthesiologist), Larry Tomsic (Recreation Therapist), Rene Clement Vreuls (Lead Pediatrician), John Kaufmann (Patient Transporter) and Sarah Rejman (Director and Founder of The Plaster House).

We got a tour of her amazing land and facility, high atop the hills with sprawling green grass and lush plants as far as the eye could see.  Everything felt open, peaceful, clean, and you could sense how healing this environment was for the children.

[Pictured: Devi Tantri (Surgeon) delicately examines a young potential patent who had suffered facial damage from abuse]

We met many special children recovering there.  One such child was a young girl named Gloria who had been receiving burn treatment for boiling water that had been spilled onto her face.  As a result she had lost sight in one eye and has different patterns of skin pigmentation on her face as she heals.  I snuck away for a few minutes and got the honor to play with her, taking turns, spinning a blue plastic top.  She was very good and had a strategy she taught me about finger placement.  She gently handed me the top and encouraged me to keep trying, although it was clear she was the expert.  We giggled as the top whirled close to the edge of the bench we were spinning it on.  Sometimes it would collide into one of us and rebelliously fly under the bench and we would race to find it, laughing full-heartedly.  It was in these moments with Gloria, where she was the teacher and I was her student, that she had transformed from a shy girl into a confident, joyful one.  Time seemed to slow down and I could have played tops with her for hours on that sunny bench at The Plaster House, excitedly transfixed on which path the top would travel.  It then occurred to me that Rotaplast’s mission “saving smiles, changing lives” is indeed achieved by the masterful operations being performed, but also by being present with each child and taking the opportunity to make them feel truly seen.