Sunday, May 13, 2018

Creative Smile Missions in Arabia

Creative Smile Missions in Arabia Felix
Part 1: Understanding the EMIC and ETIC

As a Christian specialist plastic surgeon involved in cleft lip and palate missions for many years, I believe that bridge building is an essential part of understanding where patients are coming from.
Our initial years in Yemen Arabia involved bridge building before venturing into the actual work of making smiles.
1.       Mapping the scenery
2.       Meeting local leaders
3.       Understanding their values
4.       Networking with local teams on the ground
5.       Delivering the much needed services
6.       Refraining from the “us versus them” mentality
7.       Leaving a smile legacy

I read with dismay some reports from an international smile team that was assigned to Uzbekistan a few years ago. Undoubtedly, the medical team was fairly good and experienced. But they did not do their homework before entering the country. Many of them have never travelled outside their own culture before or worked in an international setting.

        They had not studied anything about Uzbek culture
          They were good specialists and helped a large number of patients but left a bad taste in the process by running down the medical system and knowledge of Uzbekistan. Not knowing the English language does not mean doctors are not qualified!
      In their preoccupation with the “us versus them” mentality and preconceived mindset, they completely forget that their own home country has one of the largest cleft problems in the world. Most live below the poverty line and are neglected if they do not have the “proper connections” to get into free government smile surgery programmes. I met some under the shelter of the Himalayan deodar tree roadside clinics a few years ago
      I seriously doubt if such teams would ever be invited again

 The Foreigner Phobia exists in many countries, and smile missions are not exempted from this scrutiny. Our initial years in Yemen Arabia were very tough, and we faced incredible opposition from some around us.

 As a result, the work of making smiles did not take off till a few years later, when people realised a few things about us :

        We were not on a public propaganda mission about ourselves

        Our work was low key and pro bono

        We refrained from criticising other hospitals and doctors and we were not practising to learn surgery on Yemeni patients.

We did not retaliate even when some referral hospital doctors in our city threatened to harm our staff, and when corrupt health ministry officials and a deputy minister wrote scathing reports about us, advising all governorate hospitals to ban us from working with them.

 Building bridges of friendship before our work opened doors across the country. When I heard about the letter written to all government hospitals in Yemen banning the smile work, I met some hospital directors and leaders who were my close friends and asked what they would do about the minister’s letter. They smiled and told me,” Oh that deputy minister’s letter to stop you all from helping our Yemeni people? I have a trash can, my dear friends!”

          Respecting the leadership in the host country opens many doors. Because of the support of local leaders and the country’s main leaders, our work continued despite some initial bottlenecks. We were at a hospital smile camp when some leaders from the nation called us to inform us that we should ignore such shameful letters form misguided officials and that we were given permission to go to any government hospital across Yemen Arabia.

        Getting to know the patients you serve makes your work easier. Many poor Yemeni patients came to know that some corrupt government officials were attacking us, and warning them not to attend our smile camps. The result was a huge number from across the entire nation asking us to help them smile again. 

      Despite the 2015 war by Saudi on their poor country, many still long for new smiles of hope and some continue to register in the hopes of getting that second chance at life.

This is the true story, as it happened in the nation of Yemen Arabia where thousands of plastic surgery patients from every village and town attended our pro bono workshops and camps.

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