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Jonathan Amarilla's Story
Jonathan Amarilla: From a student volunteer to a medical career
Jonathan Amarilla, Student Volunteer
My journey with Operation Smile began when I was 15 years old. At that age, I didn’t have much motivation or direction in my life until a friend invited me to an afterschool Operation Smile student club meeting.
I didn’t understand then what I was getting into, but the more I showed up and learned about the plight of the children here in my own country of Paraguay who needed help, the more I fell in love with the the work of Operation Smile. Later that year, I was honored to be a student volunteer on my first medical mission in Paraguay -- an experience that would forever impact my career path.
On the first day of that medical mission, I was shocked to see all these kids and adults suffering from cleft lip and cleft palate. Many covered their faces with their hands or scarves. It was painful to watch them hiding, as if they were ashamed. It saddened me to see these kids who have never smiled, who have been shunned from their communities and bullied. But at the same time, I was hopeful because they were here at the medical mission and hopeful because they would get the help they needed from Operation Smile.
My job as a student volunteer was to play with the children, make them feel comfortable about surgery and, hopefully, bring them some joy during a foreign experience. As the medical mission went on, I learned the different roles the medical volunteers play.
Everyone comes together from different parts of the world to do one thing, to give a child a chance at a new beginning and a chance to live life fully.
I witnessed how a group of people with so much good in their hearts can take kids who have never smiled and give them a new life they deserve. I was only 15, only a student volunteer. I wasn’t a doctor, but I still felt so happy, so useful.
That day changed my entire perception on life. It was stunning to see how great a change the medical volunteers can make in these patient’s lives in just under an hour. As the days of that medical mission went on, I realized just how big of an impact a simple act can make in not just one person’s life, but a whole community.
Since that year I have never missed an opportunity to volunteer on a medical mission. I’ve been on 13 missions now, and from each one of them, I have so many stories to tell, so much learned. It is thanks to these experiences that I made the most important decision of my life -- I decided to become a doctor, a plastic surgeon. My dream is to one day volunteer as a surgeon and help those kids get a new start, a new life, the chance to start over.
Operation Smile changed me in so many ways. Today I’m in my third year of medical school and I’m working toward my goal and continuing to work to help bring new hope to children here in Paraguay.
In September, Operation Smile opened the Paraguay Surgical Center to provide year-round care to children with cleft lip and cleft palate. Now parents who have a child with a cleft lip or cleft palate don't need to wait for the next medical mission.
Students from around the world helped raise $50,000 to go toward making this center possible. Not that long ago, I was one of those students. I hope, and I know, that the next generation of youth leaders will be inspired like I was to help make a difference through Operation Smile.
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