Chanon Sawintara, a high school volunteer from Thailand, tells his story from his first mission trip with Kids Action for Kids, when he was still a middle school student:
Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, March 2015
Ever since I was young I never thought of the little imperfections that every single person has. I didn’t pay much attention to details or facial features that a person has either. Having this kind of mindset used to make me have a biased opinion that everyone looked the same and no one is extremely different. But as I start to get older, my opinions towards people’s facial features started to change. I could sort out the minor things such as eye color, nose height, mouth size, etc… and it made me realize that everyone is actually different.
A couple years ago I was introduced to the Kids Action for Kids (KAFK) club in ISB (International School of Bangkok). It wasn’t as big of a deal for me when I was in 6th grade because I had never seen a person with any kind of facial deformity. Nor could I imagine what I would say to the person because I have never experienced it. Then 8th grade came and I had a great opportunity to travel to Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar with the KAFK group, to help the children to be comfortable with taking the surgery, and to recover from it
I wanted to go on the trip because I had never experienced or interacted with anyone with a cleft lip or palate. I remembered when the KAFK group, the Operation Smile team, and the doctors landed on the Nay Pyi Taw airport. No flights were coming in or out. It was literally a ghost town. And seeing a couple of locals wearing traditional ‘Longyi’s’ made me feel very alienated. Anyways, we got on a bus that then escorted us to the hotel we were sleeping in.
The day after, I was going to see what a cleft palate looks like in real life. We got on a bus again and drove to the hospital, where we would meet the patients. Looking through the window of the bus, I seemed to notice that Nay Pyi Taw kind of reminded me of my home, Thailand. The majority of people still rode motorcycles and the cars weren’t high-end vehicles. There were just plain cars that could provide transportation so that people can go take care of business.
We then arrived the hospital. The main building was painted in a mint green color. I expected a big white building with bright lights, nice cold air conditioning, and multiple rooms for different patients. It turned out to be the exact opposite of what I imagined. The hospital didn’t look packed, there was not an AC compressor in sight, and the hospital seemed to be split up in many buildings. But at the corner of my eye I noticed a little figure moving outside of the car window. It was a young boy, probably at the age of five. He was jumping up and down, joyfully as he stood next to his mother. But then I saw a dark red color that looked out of place. I then realized. I was looking at his cleft lip leading to a palate, when he lifted his chin mouth open. I didn’t make me disgusted or scared. It made me feel sad. Such happy boy, at a young age, needs to suffer the difficulty to speak, talk, and breathe.
When the bus stopped, everyone rushed out, to get set up and start the screening process. The job for KAFK was to help these kids feel confident to go into surgery. So what we did was blow bubbles, jump rope with them, and give out some toys. Even with the cleft conditions, I could still see the smile of kids that came up to receive a toy from me. I thought: “These aren’t different kids! They are normal kids that eat, sleep, play, breath, and, learn.” And to hear that some natives think it’s a sign of bad luck or it makes the kid a terrible human being, made me sick. Seeing these kids reminded me of what I used to be like, and how I acted like. Although the sun was blazing hot and the air was very humid. I tended to forget about those feelings while I accompanied the children at the hospital.
Before the trip, I was afraid that I wouldn’t know how to act in front of the children. I was scared that I would mess up or make a child cry. But after interacting with the children I felt great and that I could tell myself that I made a difference by making some children think positively about the operation that they are going into. And I am so thankful that I finally got to experience this for myself, for the first time.
The best feeling for me was the feeling of success. Success in these circumstances meant, when you did something, the child would laugh and smile. That’s what I was really proud of myself for and I had never bonded this close with younger kids or strangers ever before. This was truly a great experience and I am looking forward to future operations. This trip made me realize how lucky I am. I have a great education, a great family, great friends, and all the things I need. This makes me feel fortunate for what I have. And I know that if it’s something I really want, I can tell myself, “I don’t need it” because I am positive that without the item the kids at that hospital can still smile and be filled with joy.
I still think till this day of how I would survive with a facial deformity, and how would society have an impact towards me and my problem. It was a successful mission, 142 children received the surgery, and many more children are still waiting to have a life changing operation. I wish you can come join to help more kids with me.
Read more about the Myanmar surgery mission here: Bringing smiles to Myanmar in 2015
Here you can see Chanon talking about why he got involved in Kids Action for Kids!