Back in 1982, a plastic Surgeon, Dr. William Magee, and his wife, Kathleen, started a small charity called Operation Smile. Having grown remarkably over the years, it has now performed over 200,000 cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries to help recreate that beautiful smile. With the mission statement that has served them so well, ‘We dream of a world where no child suffers from the lack of access to safe surgery’, they have a profound drive that has seen them touch a great number of young lives.
Whilst surgery forms the core of the charity, they also aim to educate the doctors, patients and the general population of their target countries. They partner with the local governments and ministries to help train and also to provide equipment to the sites. The organisation tries to fill gaps in resource-poor systems.
The first mission they participated in was Naga City, Philippines, where the team had enough supplies to help 40 children.
300 arrived on the day.
Ever since they made a promise to return to help even more. After beginning to fundraise on their own and assembling a volunteer team, they returned to treat a 100 more children. But again hundreds waited. Hence the effort to continue to help more created Operation Smile.
Throughout the world, today, 2 billion people lack access to any surgical care, let alone safe care. The vast number of surgeons practice in the rich world and this struck the founders as being fundamentally unfair. In response they are now active in over 60 countries throughout the world, around the year, sometimes at multiple times depending on the need.
There is a social stigma attached to growing up with cleft lip or palate which can cause a range of issues. A case in point is Marceline, an eleven-year-old girl from Rwanda when she was born with a cleft lip that affected her nose and mouth. Children would stare, sneer and snigger. They would exclude and even bully for something that can’t be helped. She would be constantly thirsty and her condition would leave her with speech impediment without intervention. She grew up scared of the outside world so she often hid her face in public and feared to venture out.
Maxillofacial surgery is a wonderful art which treated her condition and gave a child her life back. Not only hers but much more.