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Adventurers on a mission: Kupchella in Peru


I’m writing you today from the relative comfort of my living room, with the bags packed and my daughters (Caroline, 17, and Elizabeth, 14) and I about to embark on our first-ever group participation in a surgical mission of Smile Network International. (Learn more about the organization and my relationship with it below).

This will be Caroline’s second mission and Elizabeth’s first. It’s the fourth time I’ve traveled with such teams either for these actual missions or related site inspections around the world. And this is the first time I’ll be participating in the “Adventure Travel” part of what Smile does.

The “adventure” component is a way the organization engages with citizens who may or may not have medical expertise but appreciate the mission, the international connectivity and the travel associated with the work we do.

Within 48 hours, my girls and I will be at 14,000 feet elevation in the mountains around Cusco, Peru, “acclimating” to the thin air and hiking in the mountains around that city, in preparation for four days of trekking along the famed Inca trail. That trek starts Sunday morning and will wrap up Wednesday on the sacred grounds of Machu Picchu.

To be clear, Elizabeth will be doing the trek with me (God love her, she’s been working out in preparation way more than her dad!). And Caroline is going along to work as a non-medical volunteer at the hospital where these surgeries will take place.

The trek is a little intimidating – I’m not gonna lie. It's 24 miles over four days, up and down 52,000 steps, ranging in elevation from 7,000 feet above sea level to 14,000 feet. (Why don’t they just make bridges when you get to 14K feet? Peak-to-peak. I’m just askin’.)

We will be with 11 others trekking, including one of my colleagues from GoKartLabs.

The way these things work, participants get others to "sponsor" them for the trek, and they raise money for the mission. While Team Kupchella started a little late (that’s never happened before!), I’m proud to say that the broader team of 13 has commitments of more than $75K. C-R-A-Z-Y! That will more than pay for the work of the 25-person medical team in Lima (all of whom are volunteering). The money raised on this trek covers most of the cost to get the medical teams to/from Lima and to put them up while they’re there.

The way I’m looking at it, Elizabeth and I are technically "starting early" to raise money for the next medical mission – in Lima next month!

I will send periodic dispatches from the road over the next week or so – check them out here on BringMeTheNews.

Fast facts about Smile:

Smile recruits medical and non-medical volunteers from around the globe (with what you might expect to be very active participation from the robust healthcare community in Minnesota). The organization participates in surgical missions aimed at the repair of cleft lips and palates, mostly of children, all over the world.

These are tough physical deformities (gaping holes in the roof of a child’s mouth – sometimes extending to the upper lip of the child). In the countries where Smile is operating, these birth defects would otherwise go untreated. In rare cases, they’re fatal. In most all cases, the scarring leaves heavy psychological impact, as well. Superstition in many parts of the world results in children literally left in fields to die. Other superstitions extend to families – particularly mothers – being "cursed." It’s unbelievable, really.

Fast facts about this mission:

Trek dates: July 5-10
Trek Acclimation: Two days of acclimation in Cusco, Peru, begins this Friday
Trek route: Inca Trail, Sunday-Wednesday, ending at Machu Picchu.

The Medical Mission (July 12-19):

Number of children to receive no-cost, life-altering surgeries: 75
Number of medical/non-medical volunteers: 25
Number of surgical beds operating simultaneously: 3

How it works

What it actually costs:

For the cost of approximately $500 – and in as little as 45-minutes – you and Smile Network are able to change the life of a child – forever. Simply. Profoundly.

How you can contribute:

At this writing, Elizabeth and I are just a few bucks shy of covering the surgeries for FIVE children. Our goal is TEN. Click here if you would like to sponsor my daughter and me on this trek.

Click here if you would like to contribute to Smile Network.


Medical (surgeons, anesthetists, nurses) and non-medical (records, assistants) folks volunteer for the missions. They even cover part of their own costs and take personal vacation time. They are saints.

Smile Network:

The charity pulls together the teams, does the research and negotiation necessary to launch missions in-country and covers most all the costs associated with transportation of the teams to the country – and their lodging and meals in-country.

The numbers:

Number of children receiving life-altering surgeries: More than 2,500 in 10 years
Number of surgical sites around the world: 24
Host countries: Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Armenia

About Rick:

Rick Kupchella, an Emmy-winning veteran journalist, has donated his time and money to Smile Network for several years. He joined the board shortly after founding BringMeTheNews in 2009 and now serve as Chairman of that board.

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