Dr Christian Kampik is the Head of the clinical unit in Paediatric Anaesthesia at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Academic Hospital, and a lecturer at the University of Kwazulu-Natal. Since joining Operation Smile in 2007 as Paediatric Anaesthesiologist, he has been on over 35 surgical missions.

“My first mission was to Swaziland in 2007,” he says. “The experience was amazing. On the last day of the mission, one of the patients – an 11 year old girl who had her lip operated – gave me a self-drawn thank you card. She had tears in her eyes and I started crying as well. I still carry this card to every mission.

“I was deeply impressed with the approach, set-up, organisation, and conduct with which Operation Smile performed its missions. During the next few missions, I began to feel like part of a family, rather than just a team. Most of the members were South African volunteers who kept on coming back again and again.”

What Operation Smile volunteers enjoy most

Operation Smile volunteers often say that being part of a team, united in a common goal of wanting to help others, is what is most important to them.

Funeka Cele joined us in 2008 as a pre/post operatiive nurse, and has been on ten surgical outreach missions. Despite turning 70 on 14 August 2022, she is still active in her community in Bizana Eastern Cape, and continues to volunteer for Operation Smile.

“Volunteering is so important to me,” she says, “because of the life-changing opportunity it creates for those that are not so fortunate to easily get safe surgery.” Funeka has been an integral part of what makes each mission a success. It’s no co-incidence her name means, ‘The one who is needed’.

Plastic surgeon, Bruce Lelala is another one of our Operation Smile volunteers. He comes from an a underprivileged background himself. Being able to help those in need is a great honor and achievement for him. He says that joining Operation Smile was one of my his best decisions.

“I admire and respect the values of the organisation, the dedication and the passion of everyone involved and the amazing work that the organisation does globally,” he said.

What’s important in life

Erika Bostock is an Assistant Director in the Speech Therapy and Audiology department at Witbank Provincial Hospital, Mpumulanga. She joined Operation Smile in 2011 as a Speech Language Pathologist. Erika also serves on the local medical advisory council. She’s done 20 missions to date.

“I love travelling to less developed countries,” she explains. “I always get a reset of what my priorities should be; what is really important in life, and how much time and effort we waste on trying to attain meaningless, materialistic goals.

“Being an Operation Smile volunteer allows me to use my knowledge and skills to give back to some of those in the greatest need. These are children who might never get the opportunity to have the rewarding relationships and social interactions that I’m fortunate to enjoy. Simply because of the stigma of looking and sounding different.

“I don’t think I can ever repay the value that I get from volunteering. Lifelong friendships, unique experiences, the satisfaction of having been involved in making a life-changing difference to a family are just a few of the benefits. Volunteering for Operation Smile has enriched my life immeasurably.”

Capturing the most significant moments in people’s lives

Magogodi (Dee) Dingalo works as a freelancer in the film and television industry. She joined Operation Smile as a Patient Imaging Technician, and has been on about 20 missions to date.

“The joy of capturing the most significant moments in people’s lives has kept my mission enthusiasm alive,” she says. “Travelling the world and working with people from different cultures is merely the cherry on top. I love being able to freeze a moment that will change a life forever.”

Theatre nurse

Wendy Bradshaw was a theatre nurse for plastic surgeons for many years. She also spent time working for a major business corporation and even owned her own businesses in KZN and Cape Town. After retiring, she felt she needed something to fill the void.

“Having followed various career paths in my life, I recall the most rewarding was my nursing career. The job satisfaction I experienced in this sector far outweighed what I experienced in the corporate world, including owning my own business. This is why I chose to volunteer for Operation Smile.

“Being part of their missions was beyond my imagination! Working as a team alongside medical and non-medical teammates, patients, and their care givers, I felt once again the satisfaction of giving of myself. I find it difficult to describe the array of emotions at the close of each mission. And yes, I often shed a tear when I left a mission site on the last day.

“In the 9 years I have been with Operation Smile, I have attended many missions working as Student Sponsor and in Medical Records. It is important also to help raise funds to enable these missions to continue. So I organised local needlewomen from disadvantaged backgrounds to sew the Operation Smile scrubs, which were sold on missions to help raise funds. With insets of shwe-shwe fabric, the scrubs not only unique, but colourful. They were  very popular with medical volunteers from other countries.”

Click here to find out more about volunteering opportunities at Operation Smile.

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