Operation Smile in Russia organized its first medical mission to the Republic of Chechnya in September. A team of medical professionals representing six countries traveled to Grozny where they provided free physical examinations to 202 children, and surgeries for 49.
This mission was truly an example of medical diplomacy and helping to heal the scars of war. The republic is still recovering from two civil wars in the 1990’s. “This mission,” said Gianluca Biavati, Operation Smile’s Regional Vice President, “bridged political and cultural barriers and represented the desire of the Government of Chechnya to open the season of reconstruction and of hope.”
The team was welcomed by a delegation of local government representatives, media and performers dressed in national costumes. Olga Kudamanova, Medical Programs Coordinator for Operation Smile Russia, said. “It was heartwarming to hear from them, ‘you are here to help our kids, so we will do anything we can to help you.’” It was a sentiment repeated throughout the week by families as they brought their children to be seen by the team.
Kudamanova added, “It was about making the people who have gone through years of war know that there are people out there ready to come and help them, it was about working hand-in-hand with the local health care providers,”
A special volunteer, Dr. Grigori Shabalin (who goes by the nickname Grisha) assisted with the coordination of this mission. Dr. Shabalin first became involved with Operation Smile as a patient in Vyatka, Russia in 1995 when he was 14 years old. He was a good student, but speech problems due to his cleft lip and cleft palate held him back. His mouth could not keep up with his bright, quick mind. He received free reconstructive surgery from Operation Smile to correct his cleft lip in 1995 and his cleft palate in 1996. Over the years, he continued his involvement as an Operation Smile volunteer. He wanted to help people the way he had been helped. Dr. Shabalin worked his way into a local medical school and recently graduated. On this mission he was credentialed as an Operation Smile anesthesiologist.
This mission confirmed Operation Smile’s belief that all children deserve to live their lives with dignity, no matter where in the world they live. It also demonstrated Operation Smile’s ability to utilize medical diplomacy to cross political and cultural boundaries and to make a lasting difference in our world. (source: Operation Smile)