As we finished with the last patients and were packing up boxes, we were surprised when a luncheon was set up for us.  We were under the impression that this was cancelled due to COVID.  Unfortunately, not all of our mission team was present.  Since some weren’t needed in clinic, they had been given some much needed time off and stayed at the hotel.

Tables were set up with linen table cloths and napkins.  Beautiful flower arrangements with Birds of Paradise adorned the dessert table.  At each seat, there was a post-card from the hospital thanking us for our participation in this Rotaplast mission.  Members of the local Rotary club, The Rotary Club Medellin El Poblado, started arriving as did some local dignitaries.  We all took our seats and lunch was served, ajiaco (a local dish).

Ted Alex, our mission director, was introduced.  He explained that he was speaking on behalf of Dr. Angelo Capozzi, co-founder of Rotaplast, and Dr. Anne DeLaney, Mission Medical Director, neither were able to be there due to illness.  Stephanie Salazar translated.  Ted addressed the crowd, “Thank you all for supporting our Rotaplast mission.  Our two countries have come together for one goal, to help the children of Columbia.  We have worked together to accomplish this goal.  On behalf of the Rotaplast team and board and from our hearts, thank you.  We will be back to Medellin for another mission. God Bless.” Ted then presented a plaque of thanks to key groups responsible for making this mission a success

Next to speak was Dr. Jaime Vargas.  He thanked Rotaplast for coming and helping the children of Antioquia.

Dr. Vargas has been present at the hospital every day of the mission.  I was able to interview him with the aid of a translator as the set up for the luncheon was being done.  Dr Vargas is a doctor in public health, an optometrist, and is the voice of the government of Antioquia.  He said that he is involved in all Rotary projects with the government, including Rotaplast.  This is his 3rd time working with Rotaplast.

One of Dr. Vargas’s jobs with this mission was finding the patients and getting the word out.  He created a link for registration and sent it out to the 125 cities in Antioquia. Patients registered for this mission through the link, some with the aid of social workers.  Then they went through a selection process to decide who was to be invited to come to the hospital.  Dr. Vargas sent a team of surgeons to meet with each person who had registered.  These surgeons followed the protocol given by Rotaplast as they selected the patients to come to Medellin.

Dr. Vargas told me that he wants us to know how grateful the government of Antioquia is for their alliance with Rotaplast.  He said that the resources will always be available to us for future projects.  They have a great sense of gratitude to Rotaplast.  Dr. Vargas said our presence has inspired this hospital to create their own committee to do this type of surgeries.  He is also working with Dr. Hector Villegas’s company, talked about in an earlier blog, to study the causes of cleft lip and palates to help prevent them.

Next to speak and thank Rotaplast was Monsenor Armando Santamaria.  He is the head of the Catholic Church in Medellin.  Monsenor Santamaria runs an orphanage where they housed many of the families waiting for their surgeries or were recuperating afterward.

Juan Gallego, our Assistant Mission Director, then addressed the group.  Juan has coordinated the efforts of all groups involved in this mission.  When we needed something, he contacted the correct person and got the job done.  On behalf of Rotaplast, he said that we appreciated all the help from the government, hospital, Rotarians, and our mission team.  We worked together as a team and got the job done.

Immediate Past-President of The Rotary Club of Medellin El Poblado, Jose Ivan Granada, spoke next.  He thanked Rotaplast and our team members.  He stated that they learned a lot and next time would be even better.  Jose then said that his Rotary club has a gift for each member of our team and the Rotarians present passed them out.  The card on the top of the box said, “Thanks forever.  Gracias por siempre.”  Each gift box contained a soup bowl with the Rotary wheel and Medellin El Pablado on it.  They were filled with snacks from the area.

Hospital General de Medellin’s Medical Director, Mario Fernando Cordoba Perez, spoke next, thanking Rotaplast and our team members.

Dr. Vargas then introduced the representatives from the military who helped transport supplies from the airport and were present most days at the hospital to help wherever needed.  They spoke briefly thanking Rotaplast for coming and helping the children.  They were happy to help and will do so in the future.

It was a nice luncheon and appreciated by our team.  We then said our good-byes and boarded the bus to return to our hotel to rest until we needed to leave to the airport.

I am writing this last blog from my home in California.  This will be my last one.  I hope I was able to tell the story of this mission in a way that was interesting and informative.  I have truly enjoyed being part of this incredible team and look forward to going on my next mission.  You see, I too have caught the Rotaplast bug.

Respectfully submitted,

Bonita Ramos, Mission Historian