For Yoel and Yeli, theirs was a future full of uncertainty. Leaving their home in Venezuela, the family made their way to Peru searching for a new life. They were also searching for help for their 5-month-old daughter, Elizabeth, who was born with a cleft lip and palate. Unfortunately, there were no local surgical programs close to Iquitos, where they had settled, and the capital city, Lima, was far away. Yoel contacted Operation Smile Brazil and discovered a local program in Porto Velho scheduled for December 2019.
The straight line distance between Iquitos, Peru and Porto Velho, Brazil is 1,180kms. In between is the Amazon rainforest. With nothing more than a motorized rickshaw (pictured, below), Yoel, Yeli, Elizabeth and her three sisters set out and travelled for days, by river and road, to get to Porto Velho. Along the way, strangers provided them with food, shelter and transportation.
The majority of surgical programs are local – both in terms of geography and people. This helps remove the known barriers people face when accessing surgery and healthcare. Most of the medical volunteers on local programs reside in the country or the region – meaning greater access to specialized surgery and care. Volunteers often share the same language and customs as the patients – helping to reduce fear in accessing healthcare. The local health infrastructure (i.e. health centres with surgical suites) and community partnerships are already in place, which assists in patient recruitment and keeps costs down.
While the journey through the rainforest was long and sometimes dangerous, little Elizabeth received a new smile. The family has settled in Brazil and Elizabeth is growing up fast and now waiting to get her cleft palate repaired.