Maine nurse uses vacation time to volunteer around the world

Geneva Sides has spent the last 20 years using her vacation time to volunteer around the globe. For the last three years, she’s been doing work for Operation Smile.

ST ALBANS, Maine — Many people recognize the importance of volunteering but few would use their vacation days to do it. For the last two decades, that is exactly what nurse Geneva Sides from St. Albans has been doing. For the last three years, Sides has been one of only three Mainers traveling to remote parts of the world to volunteer with Operation Smile. 

Operation Smile, founded in 1982, travels the world with the help of volunteer surgeons, nurses, medical record keepers, and others to repair cleft palates. Over the last four decades, the organization has repaired more than 300,000 people’s faces. 

Sides says the surgeries help children and adults, many of whom have been ostracized because of their deformity, be able to properly eat and speak and lead a much more normal life.

She has traveled to India twice and Africa once with Operation Smile. She always takes small compact mirrors for patients so that they can admire their new faces. She remembers one woman in her 40s who she gifted a mirror to after her surgery.  

 “She laid on her bed all night long looking at herself…She was so happy,” Sides remembers.

Even though Operation Smile pays for most of her expenses when she volunteers, the trips are not free of cost. Sides has to pay $500 to volunteer with the organization. She donates her time, her talents, and her money and says she is happy to do it. 

“It just gives me such a good feeling about what I do. When you see the aftermath of the surgeries, that’s worth it,” says Sides. 

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