Helping others smile

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 14, 2005

NSA students raise thousands

By Jason Norman

On Wednesday afternoon, Tess Smith hurried through the doors outside the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy cafeteria and started setting up some tables. Accompanied by other members of the NSA Operation Smile club, consisting of about 50 students, Smith, the club president and a four-year-member, put out several small bags of brownies, chocolate-chip cookies and &uot;trash,&uot; a concoction of Chex mix, peanut butter, chocolate and powdered sugar.

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She also took out several dark blue armbands made by the Smile club and placed them out for sale as well.

As the lunch rush began, groups of students started pouring through the doors. Many of them came over and dropped off a few dollars for an extra sugary snack or a wardrobe decoration.

Placing the money in a small bag-the club has raised roughly $1,500 in the past week and a half-Smith remembered her mission trip to Meknes, Morocco back in March. She thought about all the people that the funding would go to help.

The Norfolk-based Operation Smile provides surgical assistance to patients in Third World countries suffering from facial deformities.

Along with 42 other people (she was one of just two students, and the only one from Virginia), Smith started off her spring break by flying down to the country in the Middle East.

&uot;My grandmother grew up there and I thought it would be neat to learn more about my family history,&uot; she said. &uot;This first thing that got me started on Operation Smile was watching a slideshow from a person that had been on a mission.&uot;

Just after the plane touched down, the group went to screen some patients.

&uot;We learned about what kind of deformity they had, how severe it was, and what type of surgery it would take,&uot; Smith said.

Over the next two weeks, roughly 700 patients with cleft lips, cleft palates and severe burns would be screened. While Smith was there, over 160 people of all ages were operated on.

&uot;I went in thinking that I would be shocked at something that I’d never seen before,&uot; she said, &uot;but I didn’t. The people are so nice that you don’t even notice it.

&uot;We played with the kids a lot,&uot; she said. &uot;We told them what was going to happen. We told them about the gas masks and what the doctors would look like, and got them accustomed to the equipment. If they were nervous, we comforted them; blowing bubbles was a big hit!&uot;

After an operation that typically lasted less than an hour, the patients came out almost completely reconstructed.

&uot;It was amazing, completely amazing,&uot; Smith said. &uot;Physically, they looked completely different. Some of their parents were in shock, a lot of them were crying out of joy.&uot;

As her trip wound down, Smith wasn’t quite ready to come back to America.

&uot;It was sad (to leave),&uot; she said. &uot;You make so many close relationships with the families there. It was awesome to help people in a life-changing, amazing way.&uot;