2018 Bangladesh Surgical Camp Trip

Rotary Club of Box Hill Central member & OCA Foundation Secretary Bruce’s visit to Bangladesh

April 2018

My first surgical camp.

I could feel and see the stress, apprehension and maybe it was even fear in the eyes and on the faces of the young mums as they held their babies so tightly, waiting their turn to hand their baby over for surgery. This was obviously a new and traumatic experience for each of these young mums. It was also a very new experience for me to be there at my first live surgical camp and witness first hand this unfolding tension. For this was my first visit to Bangladesh to observe and monitor our amazing 13-year-old free cleft lip and palate program.

It’s been 5 years since I first joined the Operation Cleft Australia board and over that time it’s been too easy to just focus on the numbers, the operations completed, dollars, reports, fundraising issues, and budgets.  But now through observing the surgeons and staff doing their unbelievably skilled work at seven camps over two weeks, it’s now become much more personal. It’s about people with feelings just like me; about young babies and small children and their loving mums and dads.

These families are far too poor to afford surgery for their children, so after hearing about Operation Cleft, they were eager to take up the opportunity to receive free life-changing surgery and new hope for their child.  As I watched the pre-op  preparations, the anesthetic applied and the skilled surgeons beginning to do what appeared to me to be impossible surgery, it all became very real and personal for me too, each family with their own story of hope for a child born with a cleft lip and or palate, a child they obviously loved so deeply.

Post Operation – What a contrast!

To be there after the surgery and see the same mums’ and dads’ faces, following the handover of their child after surgery is an experience I’ll not forget.

The contrast was indescribable. The pre-op stress and worry now replaced with joy and happiness.  Mums now holding their babies so tightly, already their appearance so transformed that some mums are known to find it hard to believe that this was even their child! When in Sylhet in northern Bangladesh while one mum was holding her baby and looking intently at her little girl’s restored face, surgeon Professor Siddiky took time out to explain to me the surgery process and the complexities involved for this little girl. I asked the Doctor if he could ask the Mum in her native Bangla tongue about what this operation means for her and her baby? The mum hearing the question in Bangla, hugged her little girl even more tightly and with tears flowing down her face, came back to me with, “This means everything for my baby, and for our family, my baby now has a future and a life”. “I’m so happy and thankful”.

Aussie appreciation expressed!

What impressed me most was that across the seven centers visited the same very strong and consistent message was expressed. Thanks to the Australians, Operation Cleft and Rotary supporters for the care and love, for the long-term big-hearted consistent and generous support for our people. This message was repeated from Hospital Directors, the Bangladeshi surgeons, local Rotary Clubs and the many mums, dads, and families of the children after the completion of their child’s surgery.

What I also found was that not all of our cleft lip and palate patients are young babies and children. I met one post-operative patient, a lovely young man who had just undergone a complex 4-hour palate surgery, he was 18 years old and deeply appreciative of the efforts of all concerned. Thank you for your part in making these surgical miracles possible.

As I visited clinics in Dhaka, Chittagong, Patiya, Cox Bazar, Sylhet, Barguna and Rajshahi, the message was the same. Thanks for the service you provide to our children. You are very generous and making a very big difference for us. To you our Aussie supporters and donors I pass on to you the deep gratitude and thanks expressed by our very many friends we have now made over 13 years across Bangladesh.

Without your on-going faithful support, this life-changing surgery for the children of Bangladesh would not continue. Thanks also to our supporting partners in Bangladesh, Far East Knitting and Dyeing Mills and their Associates who continue to partner with Operation Cleft Australia to ensure the work of giving hope and a new life to children in Bangladesh continues to grow and flourish.

Bruce McEwen
Operation Cleft Australia Foundation. Note: This visit to Bangladesh was privately funded by Bruce McEwen.

See Operation Cleft in Action

Operation Cleft – an international humanitarian project of the Rotary Club of Box Hill Central – provides free cleft repair surgery to those in need in Bangladesh – the “Gift of a Smile for Life”.  This was filmed at a recent surgical camp conducted at the Dhaka City Hospital in February 2017