I was fortunate enough to take part in Project Harar's Complex Mission for the second year running and it was without a doubt my favourite experience so far.

As with all volunteering experiences, the anxiety and fear of the unknown looms, along with the buzz of excitement of what you'll be about to undertake. This year I was to work a different part of the Mission, Pre-Operative as opposed to the Surgical weeks I had previously experienced. I was filled with dread as I had a much smaller team, no safety net of a Lead Nurse until the second week and an entirely new job role. However, my fears were soon to be forgotten.

As soon as we landed it was all hands on deck. Despite the overnight flight and lack of sleep, there was work to be done and the unexpected early arrival of the patients on Saturday afternoon set us to task. Registration, documentation and triage was completed for 30-something patients in a flurry of activity. We identified a few patients we were concerned about, including one elderly gentleman (much older than his reported 45 years) who was in dire need of an emergency trip to A&E with suspected septic shock. All team members attended the unscheduled trip to Yekatit-12, ensuring the gentleman received the urgent care he desperately needed.

As the first week drew on, our team of volunteers (including two dieticians, a dental hygienist, a nurse and two Ambassadors) worked tirelessly assessing, measuring, educating and planning the care required for each patient to ensure they were surgically fit by the end of the two weeks.

We worked together seamlessly, identifying patients that required further assessments before the Surgical Team arrived, to rule out any cases that may be inoperable. By inoperable I mean only those that had likely malignancy or neurological involvement, areas outside of the surgical remit of the Complex Mission. Daily communications and guidance from the UK teams was essential and gave the Senior support we required to feel confidence in our decision making. After all, we were the sole responsibility for approximately 55 people's lives.

Socially, we engaged the patients very well – it was easily done with such a social and accepting groups. Most were from different areas of Ethiopia, most speaking different languages and dialects to each other. Despite this, each day you could see the bonds forming, particular groups becoming tighter and each individual finding their role within the group. Each person slowly starting lowering their barriers, whether it be eating without their guardians, lowering their headscarves or confidently approaching us (the forengies) for help.


This was the power of the Mission I had only experienced in passing before, but this time I was able to see and hear it occurring. Bringing together a large group of people, from all walks of life, with only one similarity; facial disfigurements.

The Pre-Op Centre soon became a safe place for all patients, one where they didn't have to hide themselves or be ashamed, each person accepting the other for exactly who they were. Each individual having the hope that someday soon, their lives would be changed, their functional challenges would improve as well as their appearances, all thanks to Project Harar.

Even now, a mere week after my return from Ethiopia, names and faces still fill my thoughts. From previous experience, I know this will long continue – a love affair you never expect to participate in, particularly not with 55 people at the same time! Again, this is the power of the Complex Mission. It leaves you yearning to know more about the people's lives you touched, wanting to know the outcome of their surgery and how it will improve their lives. Will that young girl become a lawyer and shun marriage as she claimed she wanted to? Will that young man complete his schooling, be returned to his wife and child and commence his Medicine training? Will that young boy receive lifesaving surgery or be accepted for cancer treatment?

All of these thoughts and more invade my mind daily, it is hard to forget or simply shut out after spending two weeks with such incredibly brave and resilient humans.

After all, as nurses we often touch the lives of others, but it is truly special when the lives of others touch your heart. It is an imprint left for a lifetime.