Photo courtesy/Devin Dzikowicz From the left: Marcus Pritchard, Brian Cranker, their new friends Ayushman Buragohain and Jeffrey Gorris, Andrew Druziak and Devin Dzikowicz at the Cliffs of Moher.
Photo courtesy/Devin Dzikowicz Left to right: Marcus Pritchard, Brian Cranker, Andrew Druziak and Devin Dzikowicz hold up an American flag at the University of Limerick in Limerick, Ireland.
By CASEY CROUCHER
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- In addition to traveling across rolling hills of green and visiting centuries-old castles, four Amsterdam High School students gained inspiration while visiting Ireland earlier this month.
AHS seniors Andrew Druziak, Brian Cranker, Marcus Pritchard and Devin Dzikowicz went to the University of Limerick in Limerick, Ireland, for an Operation Smile International Leadership Conference July 14-19.
Operation Smile is a non-profit medical charity that performs cleft lip and cleft palate surgery. The organization also delivers medical advice and therapy to people in low- and middle-income countries.
The four boys, who are part of a seven-member club at AHS devoted to raising awareness for Operation Smile, went to Ireland for this year's 24th annual International Student Leadership Conference with more than 450 other students from 20 countries.
The boys said their conference involved a lot of stories from speakers who have gone on missions in the past.
"We listened to a lot of speakers talk about all sorts of things," Pritchard said. "It wasn't all about Operation Smile; there were stories from missions, they talked about achieving dreams, the future, motivational words. They told us to go out there and form our own life and not follow others."
One of their favorite speakers was Amir Windom, a music producer whose recent work includes the song "Happy," performed by hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams.
"He told us that you never really know where life's going to take you," Dzikowicz said.
"Yeah, he told us you have to find your own calling," Pritchard added. "He told us a story of how he went to college and he went there to play football but he didn't really know what he was going to do with his life, and he said life takes you through crazy turns, and if we asked him then what he'd be doing in five years, he had no idea. He told us to create our own futures."
The four students also met the founders of Operation Smile, Dr. William Magee Jr., a plastic and craniofacial surgeon, and his wife Kathleen Magee.
"They were inspirational," Druziak said. "The number of people they've helped over the years is amazing."
The boys said hearing mission stories from speakers enlightened them.
"There was one girl who went on a mission to India," Pritchard said, "and eventually one thing led to another, and in five years she opened up her own orphanage for kids, gave them an education and sent some of them to college. It was truly amazing to hear."
Some of the students at the conference had been on one or more missions, and told the AHS students what they saw and learned on their journeys.
"Some of the students had gone on a mission, and they got to see the kids before they had their cleft lip or palate surgery, and then they saw the transformation afterward. It was incredible to hear," Pritchard said.
The seniors were so inspired by the conference, they all signed up for mission training so they'll one day be able to go on a mission themselves.
Aside from inspiration, the boys brought home leadership skills.
"We learned about chain reactions," Druziak said. "How you start one thing and something comes from it, and so on and so forth."
The boys said the conference gave them ideas and ways to start up programs in their community, which in turn would potentially help their club at AHS grow, and would therefore help the organization.
"Our goal is to make Operation Smile bigger, at our school especially," Druziak said. "At our school, the group isn't big at all."
They said they've tried to raise money for the organization in the past but the size of their group made it difficult; however, they learned tricks to help the group grow.
Aside from learning about leadership and ways to help the less fortunate, the boys also had time for fun.
"We met so many different people from so many different places," Cranker said. "We made friends from Panama, India, Honduras, Italy, Ireland, the U.K., within the U.S. -- just an international taste."
They said they learned so much about different cultures, yet everyone got along, and everyone was on the same wavelength. The seniors said they were so inspired by their international friends that they really want to learn more about different countries, different languages and different cultures.
"There was one point during the trip where we missed dinner because we were playing soccer," Pritchard said. "It was the first time we got a break from speakers, and we all joined in on a pick-up game of soccer, which turned into a huge game with so many different kids, and we played so late we ended up missing dinner. But it was fun."
The students also explored some castles, visited the Cliffs of Moher, and journeyed to Cork and Dublin.
"The trip was a lot of fun, and we plan on taking what we learned and using it for the future," Druziak said.