Meet The Acompañantes
Operation Smile Honduras presented an ambitious challenge to a group of seven parents and adults with personal connections to cleft in early 2016: Find nearly every adult, teen and child in the country suffering from cleft and bring them to Operation Smile for safe surgery and ongoing, comprehensive care.
Then, the remaining patients needing surgery would be almost all babies and toddlers; and for the first time in the country’s history, cleft surgery in Honduras would be truly SET: safe, effective and timely.
Nine months later, the Acompañantes did just that.
Operation Smile Honduras’ patient recruitment and advocacy program Acompañando Sonrisas – “Accompanying Smiles” – was the final step of a strategy put into action in 2014 to identify the country’s 1,000 remaining cleft cases and bring those people to care. Inspired by the patient advocacy work of Alex Guerrero, the Acompañantes covered all of Honduras, including the remote, mountainous regions which are extremely impoverished and difficult to travel.
The people they sought out were those who never had the chance to receive surgery as babies because their families couldn’t afford it, nor could they make the journey to the nearest hospital from their remote communities. In some cases, parents never learned that their child’s cleft could be repaired with surgery before they met an Acompañante.
For Miriam Figueroa, Edwin López and Claudia Rivas, volunteering for Acompañando Sonrisas is a labor of love. Their and their colleagues’ accomplishment is shared across the entire Operation Smile family, from donors to volunteers to staff around the world. Each had a hand in bringing safe, effective and timely cleft surgery to Honduras.
And though we reached this historic milestone, our work in Honduras is far from done. The Acompañantes will continue to scour the country for every last baby and toddler suffering from cleft who can be brought into Operation Smile’s care at both medical missions at the care center in Tegucigalpa.