By Natalie deLeon
Austin, Texas – Deborah Kirk has a gentle spirit about her, always has a smile on her face, and greets you with warm hugs – as if you have known her for years. She has volunteered on over 12 mission trips, was a past board member and chair, and will be the co-mission administrator on the 2017 Veracruz trip!
This trip to Veracruz I will be the blogger and it will be my first mission trip! I’m excited but I had tons of questions and who better to ask than someone who knows the ropes. Deborah was gracious enough to take time out of her day to sit and talk with me on what I can expect, the impact the trips have on everyone involved, and advice on packing:
1. What is a trip like?
When you arrive at the airport that morning you see a huge group of people in the same t-shirts and it’s like all of a sudden you have arrived at camp. Everyone is in a group and waiting for direction like camp.
You go through customs and we take medical instruments and we don’t always know how they are going to treat our luggage – if they are going to make us open it all or just let us through.
When you get to the destination there is always transportation to the hotel. You always gather for direction on what is going to happen for the next couple of hours or the next day – it’s like camp or school – you have to listen to your leader.
2. What does it mean to be co-mission administrator?
Triage is ‘central’ where everyone can come and ask you questions. You do the schedule and answer questions like – when does the bus leave? and when is lunch? etc.
3. What excites you about the mission trips?
Going to the OR while they are doing the surgeries and when they hand the child to the parent!
4. What advice would you give new comers?
I would say [wear] comfortable shoes, [bring] lots of clean underwear and bras – there may be no AC and you will want to change your undergarments a lot! You will spend most of your days in scrubs and at the end of the day all you will want to do is take them off. You will need a lot of clean clothes for the end of the day. You will go through a lot of clothes!
5.What else besides surgeries happens on the trips?
Every day you start early with breakfast, then surgeries all day, and then we come back to the hotel. Most people get groups together and meet at restaurants – some will stay and have room service. There are times when we get back so late [that] some just have room service and go right to sleep!
On Fridays when we are off, we have excursions, it’s different from country to country. Ex: zip line, volcano hikes, boating trips, all day tours, beach all day, coffee plantation tours – I have never been on a bad excursion!
6. How do you deal with turning kids away?
I have had personal experience with this, I have had to tell the parents in Spanish. It’s hard but it’s because the child is either sick or has a fever and if we were to do the surgery there could be complications. I feel like it’s a sad but an important message, in that you want your child here for a long time and we are not going to risk their life. In the long run it is for the best! If they have low birth weight fatten up the baby because we want the baby fat enough to make it through the surgery.
7. What impact have the trips had on your life?
It completely changed my life. It made me look at people in a completely different way, especially people who need help – not just people who need surgery, but people who need help. It made me more compassionate, more grateful for my life, my health, and my family’s health.
You realize that you are a part of something big and you will want to pinch yourself. You change several people’s lives and feel so needed and wanted. Moms will come up to you and say thank you so much and you will know in your heart you didn’t do anything personally, but you did because you are part of the big picture!
The first time you see the kids you will be sad because you can see the deformity. You know these families have traveled a long way and they are tired and a lot of them will have these blank stares. You will want to cry – and please know it’s okay to go somewhere and let it out. At first, I would go to the restroom to cry, but later you realize everybody does it!
8. What is a moment that has impacted you?
In Guatemala on my first sight visit, there was this little boy who was so so cute! He had this level of maturity only a child who has gone through something like this would have. He’s probably eight or nine years old. The doctors said that he had a personal surgery involving his genitalia. His mom instructed him to go thank the doctor and said “abrazo” hug the doctor. He was getting instructions and was following everything. He then ad-libs to the doctor and in Spanish, with his big beautiful eyes, says, “thank you so much. I will never forget you. My family will never forget you and my life will never be the same since you and I have met and you have helped me.” The doctor had a tear come down and he had a look of absolute surprise. It was just a special moment.
9. To you, what does Austin Smiles mean?
It’s hope, it’s life changing, and miracles for families that could have never imagined their child could have a chance.
10. If someone wants to volunteer, what do you tell them?
Go to the website first to sign up. What can you bring to the table? We love to have volunteers working and having a purpose! We have more than just translating, there is organizing, if you don’t speak Spanish and you have a ball and/or a coloring book, go to the waiting room and sit with the kids on the floor and play. These kids are sitting for hours and they are bored. There is always something to do but it’s nice if they can bring something to the table.
11. Any last comments?
Be ready for the first day of seeing patients it’s heart warming but you are witnessing something divine and different. It’s a catalyst of seeing a child go from disrepair to repair and is just mind-blowing. Its important work you are going to witness, if you are there to witness it then God put you there to witness it.
We are one week away from our trip to Veracruz! I can’t wait to experience this life changing event and I’m excited to help create smiles and change lives. If you would like to donate to our Veracruz trip, donate here! We would not be able to accomplish our mission without people like you!