Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's All In the Smile

While the last two days have been tremendously busy, it has been the kind of busy that you enjoy and actually look forward to. Nearly every hour of the day was filled with media visits, COMREL Projects, visits from Distinguished Guests and that does not even include the amazing strides that our Fleet Surgical Team and embarked NGO’s are making both afloat and ashore in Puerto Cabezas, Betania, and Yulu (beginning tomorrow)- all rural towns of Nicaragua.
Yesterday, 8/18/08, a media event was held onboard which allowed for several reporters from local media outlets to come aboard and take a closer look at what this mission is all about and hopefully deflect the current misconceptions being made on land. They were given the opportunity to ask questions and tour our medical and dental facilities to see what we have to offer as well as see where several Nicaraguan citizens have come for further surgical treatment. To date, five eye surgeries have been performed onboard.
When it was time for the media to depart, myself and the CO of Kearsarge, CAPT Walter Towns, departed as well for the softball game where I threw out the first pitch. This game has been the talk of the town since our arrival, despite what most people may think, soccer is not the game of choice here in Nicaragua, but rather softball. After yesterdays game, I can see why, they play a mean game and gave us a run for our money. While the Nicaraguan team did win in the end, it was the sprit of the game rather the score.
Today we had an early start again. I departed the ship this morning to meet our distinguished guests from the AMERICAN EMBASSY and Senior Nicaraguan Military Officers. After brief greetings and pleasantries, we visited three project sites to give them an appreciation of our progress since our arrival on the 11th of August. As of 19 August, we have medically screened over 23,000 citizens of Nicaragua and have treated over 6,000 patients, and we have four whole days left. It is a range of mixed emotions to be able to give to so many yet still see so many in need. Our guests were amazed at the progress made in such a short amount of time and could not refrain from heaping praise and appreciation for what we had and were doing to help their people. The Senior Nicaraguan Officer, General Aviles and the Embassy’s Charge’ d’ Affaires, Honorable Richard M. Sanders, commended the entire team for their tremendous effort. General Aviles, went on to state that there had never been such a display of compassion and commitment to the people of Nicaragua and that this show friendship would be remembered and appreciated for years and years to come.
Immediately following the site visits our guests and the media, returned to the ship via helicopter. If I had not previously mentioned, we have 8 Helicopters onboard, each piloted and maintained by very talented and professional crew members of HMH-464 (CH-53’s) or HSC-28 (MH-60S’s). Upon our return to the KEARSARGE, a brief press conference was held followed by a reception in the wardroom. Gifts were exchanged as well as a sincere words and gestures of appreciation and gratitude. Yes, there were hugs in the ranks, but who cared…we were caught up in the moment as true friends sometimes do when a connection has been made.
Later this evening my dinner companions were our Operation Smile counterparts who just arrived onboard today. Speaking to them was educational and enlightening as they presented the tales of a few families and their effort to arrive in Puerto Cabezas in the hope of being selected to be an Operation Smile patient. The most amazing was that of a family who traveled three days by various means to arrive for the evaluations and are fortunately onboard this evening for surgery in the morning. These types of stories are what give us the drive and determination to press forward through challenging conditions to make this mission a success. There is a need out there and we are trying our best to make a difference; despite the heat, despite the humidity, and despite whatever minor inconvenience may present itself, and they are minor in comparison.
This evening we have 11 children onboard with their escorts ready for surgery tomorrow. I had the chance to go down to meet them this evening and I was able to meet one child in particular who has already made a name for himself down in the medical department. They lovingly have nicknamed him “El Terremotito”, Spanish for the little earthquake. He is a little ball of energy that is so happy to be here and has captured the hearts of all who have had the profound privilege of meeting him. I look forward to tomorrow when I will see them all again, post surgery and well on their way to recovery and an improved quality of life. For them, it is more of an adventure and most are not quite aware of the life changing event that will happen tomorrow, but their parents are. In the parents eyes, you see signs and glimmers of hope and anticipation that any parent would have when their child is given the chance at living a “normal life.” “Que Dios les Bendiga”. May God Bless Them All.


Josee said...

Good day,
I have a good friend of mind on your mission from Canada, Sgt Charlene Arsenault. So I keep reading on the mission and wanted to say that you are doing a amazing job out there and you should all be proud.

Commodore Frank Ponds said...

Thank you. I have met Sgt Arsenault, and she is very enthusiastic about the mission. It is a tremendous honor to have our Canadian bretheren working with us on this mission. It is without a doubt a very noble thing to do and we are still in the business of nobility. You should be proud of your Charlene...