Easton Rotary traveled back to the year 2006. BJ & Kristie Metz were in Maracaibo, Venezuela as part of a District 7430-funded Rotaplast mission. The mission to provide cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries lasted eleven days and life-altering surgery was provided for 88 children. These anomalies are handled routinely in the United States but not so in other parts of the world. Children born with such afflictions are not welcome in society. They are often not able to attend school and can be shunned by their own communities. The cleft lip surgeries are relatively minor and are basically cosmetic in nature. The cleft palate is a far more serious condition. Children with cleft palates have difficulty taking in food and are heavily prone to infection.
Families formed lengthy lines at the opening clinic. They arrived before dawn and waited for hours, desperately hoping their child would be accepted. The 30-member Rotaplast team was ready. Ten non-medical volunteers were there from District 7430. Their real-life occupations included police detective, retired University professor, glass sales, nurse, school administrator, and some guy who does heating and air conditioning. This diverse group aided the international group of 20 medical professionals.
The group was housed in an abandoned hotel that had once been rather nice. This was done for safety. The hotel was surrounded by a wall and there was a constant military presence at the gate. The streets were dangerous, and the team never ventured out without police protection. The hotel offered no hot water ,and the kitchen was shut down mid-week due to a little problem with vermin. Our stay was made comfortable by local volunteers who made us feel quite welcome.
The work was done in a relatively new pediatric hospital. The hospital was several miles outside the city and was surrounded by endless barrios featuring families living in incredible poverty. The majority of our patients came from this type of background. Some of the children had cases that were severe. PDG Jack Brent served as the team dentist, and he often had to perform multiple extractions before surgery. Some of the children would need multiple surgeries to complete the work. The Team’s theme for the trip was “Bridging the miles with smiles”. As you can see from the picture, mission accomplished.