Cathy and pre- and post-operative nurse Donald Mlombwa of Malawi comfort Julita by showing her some of the surgical equipment she will see after entering the operating room for her cleft surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.


Healing through therapeutic play – crucial role of the psychosocial care provider


Local volunteers like Cathy Cheonga serve a vital role by delivering tailored care services to help families and patients thrive.

As a psychosocial care provider, Cathy has attended six Operation Smile surgical programmes so far. She uses therapeutic play and hands-on educational activities to help patients feel calm and prepared to enter the operating room. When you think that many of these children and families have never been to a hospital or ventured outside their communities, you realise the value of Cathy’s role.

“Everything is new to them,” she says. “I love to work with the caregivers as well as the patients – to reassure them and to tell them that there is hope, there is a smile at the end of the journey.”

With years of experience connecting with patients in her home country of Malawi, Cathy has become attuned to the specific needs of those born with cleft conditions.

“Stigma is the biggest enemy,” she says. “Most of the patients we see don’t go to school. They might start first or second grade. After that, the bullying is likely to start. When they are a bit older, these kids often decide to drop out of school.”

We asked Cathy what she loves most about being an Operation Smile volunteer.

“There are so many professionals, medical and non-medical, coming together and just giving it their all to create something special for the patients. I love the interaction and integrations. I’m also learning a lot of new things through working together.”

Click here to find out more about volunteering for Operation Smile.

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