Who would ever thought that a mirror could make one realize that he is exactly where he needs to be?
This is what Speech Pathologist Bal Ligot found out in 2005 as part of the volunteer team in Bataan.
Fernando Ligot or “Bal” to his family and friends is one of the longest-serving volunteers of Operation Smile Philippines. He has been in countless local surgical missions around the Philippines. Bal also regularly takes part in international surgical missions around the world. His expertise and compassion has also touched the lives of people across the globe.
The start of his journey
Bal had heard about Operation Smile while he was still in his teens. But it was in college at UP Manila that he got to meet Dr. Michael Van Lue, an American speech pathologist and volunteer for Operation Smile. Dr. VanLue was in the Philippines in 1999 and wanted to reach out to fellow speech therapists. At that time, UP was the only school offering speech pathology. After the meeting, Bal was invited to join a surgical mission the following year.
Being the son of a surgeon, Bal was familiar with the work surgeons do. But it was not until he entered the speech pathology program of UP Manila did he get to work and experience working with children with cleft lip and palate. And when he did join the Operation Smile surgical mission in 2000 in Cavite, he experienced first-hand the difference he can make in the lives of people.
What keeps him going
“Changing the lives not only of the patients but their families as well keeps me going.” This is what pushes Bal forward in his time with Operation Smile Philippines. It also helps that there is a whole community of Operation Smile volunteers driven by the same desire to help other people in need.
“Surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, speech therapists, dentists, and all the other volunteers – these people working together to help make the lives of these individuals better is what keeps me going.”, he said. He also added that the word “just” does not exist in the vocabulary of Operation Smile.
He explains, “ I do not believe in the word just” – “I am just a dentist” or “I am just a medical records person” or “I am just a nurse”. Each and every person in the mission team who is doing something to help make the life of another better is not “just” doing something, they are doing exactly what needs to be done. So I say – “I am a dentist” or “I am a medical records person” or “I am a nurse” add to that…” and I help change the lives of individuals with cleft lip and palate”. That idea is what keeps me going.”
Most unforgettable mission
Bal was in Balanga Bataan in 2005 when he saw a child looking at himself in the mirror after receiving cleft lip surgery. This seems like an ordinary and typical thing any patient would do after an operation. You would want to check how it went and what the operation looks like. But this was not the case.
Bal said that there wasn’t anything unusual about the scene. That is until the mother of the child with tears in her eyes said “he has never looked at himself in the mirror before his cleft lip was operated on until now”. The boy in the mirror was smiling back. This was when Bal realized that in that exact point in time, it was a life-changing moment for the boy, his mother, and for him.