Around 3000 Egyptian children a year are born with facial deformities which hinder their ability to light up the world with a smile.
Operation Smile Egypt is on a mission to give children the chance to smile, and ultimately to change their lives, through offering reconstructive surgeries to underprivileged patients.
“A child with a facial deformity is shunned by society, and often unable to attend school or participate in public life,” says Genny Adel, Egypt’s Operation Smile country director. “But the surgery, which only takes 45 minutes, changes their lives. They are able to become productive members of society without fear.”
Operation Smile Inc. (OSI) is a private, non-profit, volunteer medical service organization based in Virginia, US. Since its establishment in 1982, it has provided free reconstructive surgery and associated health care to more than 140,000 children and young adults in 52 countries.
With 3000 Egyptian children a year born with either a cleft lip or a cleft palate, this facial deformity is more prevalent than one might expect, and the majority never receive the surgery they need.
In Egypt, Operation Smile works on providing cleft lip surgeries for children who cannot afford them, using international medical volunteers.
“The ultimate goal of Operation Smile is to ensure that every Egyptian child born with a cleft lip or cleft palate receives quality treatment and has the opportunity to live a life free of discrimination,” says Adel.
Adel started off as an Operation Smile volunteer, organizing a fundraiser in El Gouna in support of the cause, and is now proud to be the country director.
“It is extremely rewarding to know that every day I am working toward changing lives for the better,” says Adel.
Operation Smile organizes medical missions in partnership with the government and local hospitals, operating on 100 to 200 children over a period of five days, free of charge to the patient, according to Adel.
Private physicians tend to charge up to LE 5000 for the reconstructive surgery, which exceeds many Egyptian families’ monthly income, while Operation Smile is able to operate on children with costs of just 1500LE.
Operation Smile has so operated on over 800 Egyptians, with missions in Alexandria, Assuit, Aswan, Cairo, Helwan and Qena, providing relief and a new joy in life to many Egyptians. “The impact of our work not only affects the lives of children, but also helps their parents, families and communities as a whole,” says Adel.
Support, both monetary and moral, is indispensable to this charitable organization. ”Without the financial and moral support of the Egyptian community we would not be able to succeed,” says Adel. With the ultimate goal of eradicating a backlog of clefts in the next ten years, Operation Smile is constantly seeking more support.
In addition to offering life-changing surgeries, Operation Smile Egypt strives for the empowerment of local doctors and nurses. Educational training courses and involvement in internationally supported missions significantly benefit local medical providers. At the same, Operation Smile gives them the chance to experience first hand the magnitude of volunteerism and the power of human spirit.
Operation Smile also invites Cairene students to participate in the quest for smiles. “Hundreds of students take part in our student clubs to raise funds, build awareness and learn the values of commitment, leadership and volunteerism,” says Adel.
Student clubs from al-Alsson School, the Modern English School, and the British International School in Cairo have become dedicated contributors to the cause. “Our student volunteers have the opportunity to attend missions and see first hand how their efforts help change the lives of children born with a cleft lip,” says Adel.
For Mariam Mohsen, a mass communication senior at the Ahram Canadian University, being part of Operation Smile is all about spreading joy and changing lives. “We give children the chance to be ordinary, to be able to drink, eat and smile like any other child at their age,” says Mohsen.
Mohsen started volunteering with Operation Smile in 2009, and due to her passion for photography, she joined the Patient Imaging Technician (PIT) team. Since the process begins with a picture, and ends with a picture, Mohsen has a role throughout the mission to photograph how children obtain the ability to smile.
“First, we take pictures of patients when they apply for Operation Smile so that our doctors can evaluate which of them need surgery urgently, and who can wait for the next mission,” Mohsen explains.
“We later follow up with the patient by taking their picture one week after surgery, then one month, and then a year later to send the file to Operation Smile main headquarters in the US.”
Mohsen’s Operation Smile experience opened her eyes to the suffering of cleft patients, as well as the extent to which a combination of donations, support, and medical assistance can repair a person’s life.
Most inspiring for Mohsen though, was the fact that “people from different cultures and nationalities can come together on a mission.”
“Tears will run down your face when you see that a child has walked into surgery with a defect, and walks out perfect. Yes…perfect, a perfect smile,” says Mohsen.
Mohsen says it even makes a bigger difference if you get to know the child. She remembers one of the patients, Ibrahim, with a wave of emotion.
“There was this kid, Ibrahim, who attended three missions due to his complicated condition,” says Mohsen.
“After knowing him for almost a year, I was absolutely in love with him, so after he had his final surgery, I just wept…at the sight of him as an ordinary child with the most perfect smile I had ever seen.”
Operation Smile accepts donations by transfer or deposit
Name: Operation Smile Egypt
Bank: Commercial International Bank (CIB)
Account Number: 5990000076
For more information about Operation Smile Egypt, please contact [email protected]
In collaboration with Fairmont Nile City Hotel’s Bab el Nil Ramadan tent, Operation Smile have planned several fundraising events for the month of Ramadan.
18 August:: An art auction will be held by the the Zamalek Art Gallery, featuring artwork donated by contemporary Egyptian artists.
25 August: In collaboration with Pashion Magazine, actress Yousra will be hosting a ‘West meets East’ fashion auction.
1 September: An event will be held with Cairo 360, featuring Arabic fusion music from local bands.