Most of us who lay claim to the Islamic charitable heritage are probably familiar with the notion of a smile being the simplest form of charity. It’s unfortunate, then, that regardless of the cultural values moulded into us when we’re young, the majority of us take such a simple thing for granted. So here’s a reminder to us moody, emotional misers: for children who suffer from cleft lip and palate, a smile is something they
will never take for granted.
It’s estimated that one in 600 children worldwide are born with a cleft lip and/or palate every year. The condition not only makes it difficult for sufferers to eat and speak; socialising also becomes a challenge. Often born to disadvantaged families without the means to afford the surgery, most of these children are shunned by their community. In the worst cases, such as with baby girls in some parts of rural China, a cleft lip can become a death sentence.
The issue deserves more attention than it is given, and that’s where Operation Smile comes in. Working across 70 countries worldwide, this non-governmental organisation provides free reconstructive surgery for children born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities. During the past three decades, it has provided more than two million patient evaluations worldwide and 200,000 free surgeries for children
and young adults.
In January, Operation Smile launched in the UAE, opening a local fundraising office, and the group’s advocacy work has already funded two missions to Morocco and the Philippines. The missions have provided more than 400 surgeries across both countries and, with the support of partners, Operation Smile UAE has also been supplying equipment to cleft centres in Africa and Asia. Now the local group is hatching plans to launch a mobile awareness bus on a road trip across the emirates, which will provide consultations and care for children suffering from facial disfigurement in this region.
‘We believe all children deserve to live their lives with dignity,’ says Operation Smile founder Kathy Magee, who started the global organisation in the US with husband Bill in 1982. ‘For those suffering from cleft lip and palate or other facial deformities, dignity begins with a smile.’
The couple first came into contact with disadvantaged children during a trip to the Philippines, where the level of poverty and desperation persuaded them to return to aid those they were unable to help at the time. ‘But the group we were with said they weren’t coming back,’ says Kathy. ‘And that’s when Operation Smile was born. It was either us or nobody.’
Since then, Operation Smile has received an overwhelming level of support, both globally and locally: the UAE group’s success has been phenomenal. From student clubs raising money through cake sales to local nurses, plastic surgeons and dentists signing up for voluntary missions, the spirit of activism is enough to make anyone proud.
‘All of our medical staff are volunteers,’ Kathy says, emphasising the passion and goodwill of all those who step forward to help. ‘No one who goes on our missions gets paid for their work.’ And it’s not only those with medical degrees who are able to help. Whoever you are and from whatever walk of life, the list of ways to get active are as extensive as they are creative: from volunteering to help at one of the local fundraising events to donating some money or even helping to spreading the word.
In the run-up to the festive season, here’s the pitch: Dhs880 pays for a 45-minute operation that can change a child’s life forever. So whether you’re getting into the true Christmas spirit, or your new year’s resolution is simply to be kinder to your fellow man, why not help a child to smile?
For more information, visit Operation Smile at www.operationsmile.org.ae (050 617 6746).