[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/26/art.smile.jpg
caption=”Damien Declerk, 25, is a mission coordinator with Operation Smile.”]
“Everything OK, Damien?” I ask him every other time he zips in front of me with a different box of papers, equipment or toys. “Yeah, yeah,” he laughs. “You’re not stressed?” “No way, this is great,” he says with a genuine smile.
Damien is the mission coordinator on the Operation Smile volunteer trip I am on in Alexandria, Egypt. He’s 25 years old. His role puts him in charge of people twice his age. He oversees all the plastic surgeons, pediatricians and nurses who have donated their time and expertise to offer free operations to kids with cleft lips and/or palates, who can’t afford or don’t have access to the procedure otherwise.
Damien is the kind of guy that will make you laugh even in a crowded hospital in the Third World. He’s been on missions from Morocco to Madagascar. “We have so much and they have so little, and still, the people here are some of the kindest, most giving people I’ve ever met. There is no reason for us not to be happy,” Damien says, of course, with another contagious smile.
Update: Watch the CNN.com Live interview