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June 02, 2015

300 Volunteers from 17 Nations Sign up for Operation Smile International Mission in the Philippines this June

300 Volunteers from 17 Nations Sign up for Operation Smile International Mission in the Philippines this June

A total of 301 highly trained and experienced cleft care professionals from around the world have responded to the call of Operation Smile for volunteers for the “Gift of Smiles” mission in the Philippines from June 12 to 20 this year.

The multinational team will carry out simultaneous free cleft repair surgeries in five sites, namely Bacolor, Pampanga in Luzon; Cebu City and Bacolod City in the Visayas; and Davao City in Mindanao. Some 750 indigent Filipino children with cleft lip, cleft palate or other debilitating facial deformity are expected to benefit from the mission.

Operation Smile president Kathleen Magee said the volunteers who have signed up for this mega mission represent 18 countries reflecting the depth of the organization’s volunteer pool and the global reach of its advocacy.

“We are harnessing our vast international network to help countries with high prevalence of cleft deformities deal with the problem,” she said.

Of the 301 volunteers, nearly half or 147 are coming from Australia, Bangladesh, China, Cyprus, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States of America and Vietnam.

They will fly several hours to Manila to meet up with 154 of their Filipino counterparts, form themselves into teams, and travel for at least one more hour to their respective mission sites to bring healing to 750 Filipino cleft children who have had an extremely difficult childhood because of their cleft deformity.

Dr. Joan Wanyama, a Kenyan anaesthesiologist, said she has been doing volunteer work for Operation Smile for many years because in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, there are not enough trained cleft care professionals to treat children afflicted with the deformity.

Oral cleft is one of the most prevalent congenital defects in the Philippines. An estimated 5,000 are born in the country with this abnormality, which disfigures their face, impairs their speech and, if not treated early, dooms them to a life of despair.

“If we don’t lend a hand to our Filipino colleagues, many of these unfortunate children will remain untreated and face a bleak future,” Dr. Wanyama said, adding that Filipino volunteers also take part in Operation Smile mission in her country.

The “Gift of Smiles” international mega mission forms part of Operation Smile’s new strategy to increase the number of cleft children it can treat.

Operation Smile Philippines president Wigbert Funtanilla said the ultimate goal is to eliminate the backlog of cleft cases in the country and treat cleft children before they turn one.

Early treatment is critical, he said, because the cleft children would not have yet lost their self esteem or have grown accustomed to faulty speech thus making it easier for them to transition to normal life.

A cleft surgery normally takes only from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Operation Smile is also able to bring the cost down to P15,000 per child because the volunteers give their services for free.

Still, the resource requirements are huge so the continuing support from socially aware private corporations, civil society organizations and individual philanthropists is critical.

About Operation Smile:

Operation Smile, headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is an international medical charity with a presence in more than 60 countries, whose global network of thousands of credentialed medical volunteers from more than 80 countries is dedicated to helping improve the health and lives of children. Since its founding in 1982, Operation Smile has provided more 220,000 free surgical procedures for children and young adults born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities. To build long-term sufficiency in resource-poor environments, Operation Smile trains doctors and local medical professionals in its partner countries so they are empowered to treat their local communities. Operation Smile also donates medical equipment, supplies and provides year-round medical treatment through its worldwide centers, two of which are in the Philippines: at the Sta. Ana Hospital in Manila and at the Brokenshire Hospital in Davao City

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