Volunteers share stories of Smile Network International mission

Volunteers share stories of Smile Network International mission

MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - Two strangers from Mankato formed an unbelievable bond after a trip to Peru, aiding the Smile Network in their cause to help children born with cleft palates.

Connie Davis and Alex Palmer’s previous humanitarian work, Connie’s with the Smile Network, Alex with the Minnesota Air National Guard, prepared them for the trip.

But, this wasn’t just any mission. It consisted of hiking the Inca Trail - a four-day, high elevation 26-mile trek to Machu Picchu.

“I absolutely loved the challenge of that but also knowing that your purpose is to help a child change their lives that was key,” Davis said.

Once in Lima they joined the Smile Network medical team, where they met patients and families and witnessed firsthand the life-changing surgeries.

“Some of these children are abandoned on the roadside, put into orphanages because of their disability they don’t get proper nourishment, so to change their life is so amazing,” Davis added.

“"The mothers, you could see them coming in, kind of nervous. One girl had traveled 12 hours up from the mountains, she didn’t speak any English, she barely spoke Spanish, she spoke the native language. I don’t think she’d ever been to the city, she probably had never been to a hospital and so here she was, it was a roomful of strangers and a surgeon and nurses and she had to let them take her child for the anesthesia portion before they could start the surgery so that was tough for her obviously," Palmer said.

The network performs forty-plus surgeries in a matter of days. Not only changing patient’s lives, but volunteer’s lives as well.

“That’s a big privilege, is to be able to go in and watch that transformation for that child and witness that, it’s huge,” Davis said.

“Everybody kind of was there at the right time, in the right place and that bond I just feel like everybody was supposed to be there at that time. So you get a little bit of that sense, I don’t know what you want to call it, fate or cosmos or the universe kind of putting you in a place at a certain time but I got more of a sense of that," Palmer said.

The two are now busy planning their next mission. Alex hopes to make it back to Peru, while Connie will once again join the Smile Network in Guatemala next year.

If you’re interested in joining the Smile Network’s mission, visit their website to learn more.

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