Operation Smile is an international medical charity that fixes cleft—lips and palates in developing countries. We have a presence in over 60 countries and we work in some of the most remote places around the world to ensure all children born with cleft lip or cleft palate have the opportunity to be healed. More than 200,000 children are born with a severe cleft condition each year—often unable to eat, speak, socialize or smile. In some places, these children are shunned and rejected. And in too many cases, their parents can’t afford to give them the surgeries they need to live a normal life.
Operation Smile is the only NGO with a Student Programs that sends students on medical missions. When Operation Smile was first getting started, co-founders Bill and Kathy Magee brought their children on a medical mission and realized the importance of their presence and unique connection with the young patients. Today, students participate on almost all of Operation Smile’s medical missions as community educators, journalists and interpreters. Over the years, Operation Smile’s Student Programs have grown explosively. With thousands of students involved across the globe in hundreds of Student Clubs, students are making a significant impact. The four philanthropic pillars of Student Programs are Education, Leadership, Service and Awareness.
Every year Operation Smile holds an International Student Leadership Conference that empowers students to engage their leadership skills and use their voice to educate others so they too can recognize the importance of advocating for those in need.
In 2009, my sister and I had the opportunity to attend our first Operation Smile Student Programs International Student Leadership Conferences in New Port News Virginia. From that moment on we should have known that our life was going to change for the better. Operation Smile Student Programs helps youth gain a greater insight and a more rounded global perspective especially as it relates to the economic, social, and healthcare implications of children and families living with facial deformities.
After attending the conference we both knew that we wanted to get involved, start a club at our school, spread awareness and eventually go on medical missions as student educators. In high school, students can go on missions to teach health modules. As soon as we got home we began our work to establish a club. Our efforts at our high school were never officially recognized until our senior year (there are now more than 25 members involved!) at our graduation ceremony, but nonetheless we got students involved and spread awareness and raised funds to change lives.
We both were accepted to go to Winter Mission Training Workshop that January where we learned our about roles, safety and responsibilities on a medical mission. The last night we were surprised with who would be on the student team and where each team would go. Deanna was chosen to go on a mission to Phnom, Penh Cambodia and I was chosen to go to Fortaleza, Brazil that August
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It was the first time we both were apart from each other for a significant amount of time. Our time spent on our missions made such a significant impact on us. We grew as individuals and discovered first hand how fortunate we were to have the life we have.
After returning from our missions we stayed dedicated to the cause. We planned regional events and connected with other students in the area. During my senior year (2010-2011) I served on Student Program’s Executive Leadership Council. I was responsible for high school clubs on a local national and regional level as well as national campaigns for Operation Smile. Another responsibility of an ELC member is to help coordinate the International Student Leadership Conference. That year it was going to be held in Beijing, China. There was so much preparation involved. Countless conference calls with Student Programs staff member along with the 13 other selected council members from across the country. We had 800 international medical students representing 23 countries at the conference. I even lead a team of 30 individuals ranging in age from 15 to 50. It was a rewarding experience being able to strengthen my leadership skills in an international setting. Deanna attended as a participant as well. Together we saw the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, but most importantly we once again got the opportunity to attend break out workshops, listen to world—renowned speakers and have fun with all of our Op Smile friends. I even got to meet Jackie Chan!
As we entered into college we stayed involved even though we held no official positions. We attended events and regional meetings and tried to start clubs at our schools (at the time Deanna attended Siena College before transferring to Marist)
Currently Deanna and I are sophomores at Marist and we love every second of it. We continue our work with Operation Smile and are currently serve on the College Council. I am responsible for the Mid—West region of the United States and Deanna is responsible for the North—East. We also serve as mentors for the Executive Leadership Council Members.
A lot of people ask us why we are involved in this organization and why we are so invested in it.
- We LOVE Operation Smile. We realized that a Smile Changes Everything. On our missions we saw children ostracized, unwanted and unloved simply based on the fact that they had a facial deformity and thus were unable to smile and thrive. Often times these children are unable to go to school and that is something we believe should never happen.
- Student Programs truly invests in people. We had the opportunity to become leaders and make a difference in the lives of not only children with facial deformities, but also the people around us. We have learned that regardless of our age we can accomplish anything and there is no limit to our potential.
- What Operation Smile gives is a lifetime of smiles and this change is forever. Forever these children’s lives will be changed for the better and they will
We invite anyone and everyone to help us continue on our journey to literally be the change we wish to see in the world and we hope that regardless of where you want to be in life, you keep in mind that we all possess the power to do something great in this world and it is what we choose to do is whether or not the world can we a better place.