Deidre’s Journey to Cebu: Volunteering with Operation Smile

Story by Deidre – Operation Smile Australia Volunteer Nurse

My journey to Cebu started a long time ago. I have been an Operating Room Nurse—or as we call them in Australia, a Theatre Nurse—for many years. I have worked in some nice private and public hospitals both in South Australia and the Northern Territory. I have always believed in giving the best quality care to my patients be they public or private, but always felt there was more I could do. What about the people that were not blessed to be born in this amazing country? What about the world’s ‘poor’? I researched many benevolent organisations who did volunteer work around the world, and there are many!


Around 2008 my Dad went to an air show in Oshkosh USA, with my brother. He met a man who was involved in the Australian office of Operation Smile. I learned that international teams came together in countries bereft of free health care, and helped children who were otherwise unlikely to have the ability to live anything like a normal life. I got the details, and I contacted Operation Smile Australia. I was so excited, I had found my outlet! But then life happened… A divorce, children in private schools, mortgages, later a new marriage and then helping to support my new husband through University to become a nurse too. In 2010, when my husband was qualified and our children independent, my husband said to me … “now it’s your turn”, and he gave me my wings and told me to fly.
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Well, then my Mum became ill with the dreaded “C” word. She had wanted so badly for me to follow my heart and volunteer with Operation Smile. Even when she was sick, she still sewed my new scrubs for me which I wore with such pride and gratitude in February 2013 to the mission in Cambodia; my very first mission. I took back photos of me in my scrubs and so many stories. I was hooked and my parents were so proud. My Mum passed away that April and I went to China in October that same year, again wearing my scrubs as a memorial to my beautiful Mum.
Then came Mozambique, in Africa in 2014, then Davao, in the Philippines in 2015, which paved the way for this year’s Cebu mission, 2016. Davao gave me an introduction to the Philippines. It was a beautiful little island of the 7107 that make up the Philippines. The people there are such kind spirits. I work with several Filipino nurses and doctors at home, so I felt very at home as I experienced their culture.

And so going to Cebu was like returning to a familiar place. The same friendliness and hospitality awaited us. We had the privilege of working out of an amazing, modern, hospital which had been built for the community by the Mariquita Salimbangon Yeung Charitable Foundation Inc. It was more modern than some in Australia and was so clean. We were treated with such respect and gratitude by the staff that we were able to change the lives of so many families through safe surgeries. At the same time other Operation Smile Volunteers were creating miracles on mission in Bacolod and Isabela, other locations in the Philippines.
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On this mission I had the privilege of meeting 2 new Aussies. Paul Chan, an Anaesthetist from Melbourne and Kim Groves, an awesome representative from the Operation Smile Australian office. Kim has such enthusiasm and passion. She was the one who ran everywhere, whenever you needed anything, Kim was there, running errands for the program coordinator and anyone else that needed it. It is true that every time I have been on a mission I have met so many people from around the world. We are all of like mind and passion, and all flow together for the time we are in mission, but the other truth is each time I am on a mission I also make a handful of forever friends. I have visited friends in Queensland, and Philadelphia, USA. I have even rendezvoused with Operation Smile friends in the UK. I always stay in constant touch by email and social media with others, all friends I have made through Operation Smile missions.

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Looking back on that journey, what did the Cebu mission mean? It meant the world of difference not only to the precious lives we changed through surgeries and the flow-on effect to their families and community, but also to my own life, to be associated with a group of people who all want the same thing, to serve others and make a positive difference to the world we are privileged to be a part of.

"We strive for a world where no child suffers the risks and uncertainties of a facial deformity."

- Richard Lewandowski, Plastic Surgeon, Co-Founder Operation Smile Australia