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This story was written by Brady Hishmeh, Operation Smile Student Programmes Media Intern.
As a senior in his university looking to kick-start his career right after graduation, Lam Tran devoted his time and focus to the job hunt. From checking postings to reading helpful guides and so much in between, it turns out Lam wouldn’t just find his career — he would find his calling.
In a book titled “How Much Youth is Worth,” he discovered Operation Smile.
It was listed in a paragraph where the author shared the importance of Vietnam’s youth working for non-profit organisations to better their communities. Eager to land a job and taking the suggestion from the book, he didn’t think twice about Operation Smile and quickly filed applications to several organisations in Vietnam.
Operation Smile was the first to respond — and that’s when he realised this wasn’t his first interaction with the organisation. He read its name and stopped.
“Oh wow,” Lam recalled thinking at the time. “I recognised the organisation that brought me free surgery in the past.”
And when Lam arrived for his interview with Operation Smile Vietnam, the location’s programme director Ms. Duc said, “Welcome back, Lam.”
With his important perspective and drive to help others, Lam’s story seems to have come full circle as he’s now helping Operation Smile’s patients receive the same kind of care he did, and from the same organization.
“In Operation Smile, we have a very meaningful slogan: ‘Changing lives, one smile at a time,’” Lam said.
“That’s true for me. This mission at Vietnam Cuba (hospital) changed my lips, my nose and also my face. I understand (patients’) feelings, their inferiority, and I know the advance they get when they’re more confident. One surgery not only changes the smile but also changes someone’s life. So, as an Operation Smile coordinator, I always try my best to help people like myself.”
Born with a cleft condition in Thai Binh, Vietnam, a small province south of Hanoi, Lam said his greatest challenge growing up as a child living with cleft was his lack of confidence.
Having to deal with bullies is pretty universal, something that almost every child experiences. But for children with cleft conditions, it can serve as a constant reminder that there’s something separating yourself from your peers. It’s an easy target for jibes, jokes and painful stigma.
The amazing thing about a cleft condition is that it can be repaired. Lam’s had three surgeries, repairing his lip and nose.
“Since then, I’m more confident, more ‘normal,’ and I don’t see myself as a cleft boy anymore. I’m really able to be myself and do my own things,” Lam said.
Having returned to Operation Smile, though in a different role, Lam realised the importance of his work.
“Running a mission, doing coordinator work, helping the kids, everything seemed to tell me, ‘Lam, this is the mission of your life.’”
Lam is a living example of the impact surgery can have on an individual.
Focusing on his career as a programme coordinator allows Lam the ability to help lift children from the uncertainty of life with a cleft condition into the reality of confidence, strength and self-assuredness that surgery provides.
When asked what he believes is his greatest achievement in life has been so far, he responded: “I haven’t achieved my greatest goal so far, I’m still on my way there: Help as many kids as possible.”