The following information is provided to help answer some of the most commonly asked questions. If you need additional assistance, please submit your question to Donor Relations on our Contact Us page. This information is kept as current as possible and is updated regularly.
Every 3 minutes, a child somewhere in the world is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. One in 10 children born with a cleft will die before their first birthday.
A. A cleft is an opening in the lip, the roof of the mouth or the soft tissue in the back of the mouth. A cleft lip may be accompanied by an opening in the bones of the upper jaw and/or the upper gum. A cleft palate occurs when the two sides of a palate do not join together, resulting in an opening in the roof of the mouth. A cleft lip and palate can occur on one side or both sides. A child can suffer from a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both.
A. The exact cause is unknown. Cleft lips and cleft palates are congenital defects that occur early in embryonic development. Scientists believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as maternal illness, drugs or malnutrition, may lead to a cleft lip or cleft palate. If one child in a family is born with a cleft, the risk increases by 2 to 4 percent that future children in the family will suffer from the same defect.
A, Scientists are researching methods to prevent cleft lips and cleft palates. One finding, according to research studies, is that mothers who take multivitamins containing folic acid before conception and during the first two months of pregnancy may reduce their risk of giving birth to a baby with a cleft.
A. Ear disease and dental problems occur frequently, as do problems with proper speech development. Children who suffer from a cleft lip and/or cleft palate may have difficulty eating. To address these issues, a child and family may work with a team of specialists — a pediatrician, a plastic surgeon, dental specialists, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist), a speech-language pathologist and audiologist, a geneticist and a psychologist/social worker.
A. Yes. Cleft lip and cleft palate surgery provides excellent results. A pediatrician and a plastic surgeon work with a child's parents to choose the best timing for surgery. Most surgeons agree that a cleft lip should be repaired by the time a baby is 3 months old. To repair the partition of mouth and nose as early as possible, a cleft palate generally is repaired between the ages of 12 and 18 months. Any surgical procedure is dependent upon a child's general health and the nature of the cleft lip or cleft palate.
A. Cleft lips and cleft palates occur in approximately 1 per 500-700 births, the ratio varying considerably across geographic areas or ethnic groupings. (Source: World Health Organization International Collaborative Research on Craniofacial Anomalies)
A. Operation Smile distinguishes itself by adhering to six core principles:
For over 30 years, Operation Smile has become a pioneer in providing safe surgery and comprehensive care in the developing world. Our more than 5,000 medical volunteers from 80 countries reach the children who are typically isolated and hidden away because of their deformities. Many of these children and their families have never even seen a doctor or healthcare worker. Our volunteers treat both the physical needs of these children, as well as their psychological and social needs. Knowing how important nutrition is, our programs also include essential nutrition education and interventions. Our medical teams are saving children’s lives and giving them the chance to lead healthy and productive lives far into the future.
Too many countries have only one or two medical professionals who are trained to perform specialized procedures like cleft surgery, leaving hundreds of thousands of children with no access to treatment. To help meet this need, we train local surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other essential medical professionals in resource-poor settings so they are empowered to treat their own communities year-round. Intensive, hands-on medical education programs such as our American Heart Association international life-support program and our Helping Babies Breathe® courses in neonatal resuscitation develop critical skills for in-country medical professionals. In addition to our surgical and life-saving programs, we also train local healthcare professionals and community health workers to address issues such as birth asphyxia which accounts for 23% of all neonatal deaths. In this way, Operation Smile is meeting a much larger global need by helping to prevent death and alleviate the global burden of surgical disease.
We Mobilize and Collaborate
To help build sustainability, Operation Smile has established more than 35 local Foundation offices worldwide that build awareness, promote advocacy, raise funds, recruit local volunteers, and organize local programs. To develop self-sufficient healthcare systems, we work with other organizations and invest resources in our partner communities including funds, staff, and volunteers. We operate Comprehensive Care and Training & Treatment Centers worldwide so patients can be cared for year-round by multi-disciplinary medical teams who treat the related healthcare needs of the child. We also closely collaborate with local governments and ministries of health, as well as local hospitals and universities, to train medical professionals in each country, so that they can carry these programs far into the future.
Operation Smile raises global awareness of the issue of cleft and inspires action by empowering individuals, businesses, institutions and governments. To become a leading voice in the global health community in promoting increased access to quality surgical care, we rely on millions of generous hearts around the world to speak out, raise funds, educate others, and volunteer. Operation Smile has helped foster a culture of volunteerism around the world through medical professionals, students and community volunteers. We believe this promotes cross-cultural understanding, sharing of ideas, best practices and medical diplomacy. Together, we are breaking down geographic and cultural barriers, so we can provide surgical and holistic care for children in need.
We apply Global Standards of Care
We bring the highest quality of care to every child, every time. We were the first cleft organization to support the World Health Organization's "Safe Surgery Saves Lives" initiative. Our Global Standards of Care is our commitment to ensuring that every patient cared for by Operation Smile will benefit from the same sophisticated equipment, procedures and highly trained, credentialed medical professionals, no matter where they receive treatment.
A. Operation Smile is able to provide free cleft lip surgeries for children and young adults around the world for as little as $240. This is possible thanks to the generous contributions of medical professionals who volunteer their time, as well as corporations that donate critical supplies and equipment necessary for safe surgery. This cost includes expenses incurred for essential medical team members to be at an international surgical mission, the expenses for additional supplies required for the medical mission and cargo costs to help ship these critical supplies.
A. Some sites are more difficult to reach and lack essential medical resources and infrastructure. Examples of this are remote locations such as the Amazon region of South America, or in a country like Rwanda where there are very few specialized surgeons serving a population of 10 million people. These sites require Operation Smile to utilize its network of international medical volunteers for surgical missions due to the lack of local medical professionals. This ultimately can make providing free surgeries more costly. However, this cost is balanced out by many of our of partner countries like Panama and Vietnam where Operation Smile has worked for more than 20 years. Operation Smile is continuously building sustainable programs around the world by establishing a strong local medical infrastructure, building local partnerships, conducting ongoing medical training and education, and fostering volunteerism within local communities. As a result of these efforts, 66% of Operation Smile’s surgeries are performed by local medical professionals at a greatly reduced cost.
A. Our U.S. Care Network referral service is available to families in the United States, so they may find the help they need for their children. There are three components: A list of referral websites about facial deformities, a physician resource list that includes the names of doctors who are available to review a case and an Operation Smile representative who can provide guidance. Call 888-677-6453 or 757-321-7645. For assistance with patients outside of the U.S., please refer to Operation Smile's international surgical mission schedule.
A. Cleft conditions (orofacial defects) are one of the four most common birth defects in the United States according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (email@example.com.) However, most clefts are repaired during early childhood in the United States. In other countries, reconstructive surgery can take place later in life due to a variety of reasons including lack of medical care, financial resources, etc. Higher rates of unrepaired clefts in older children may also be attributed to cultural differences.
All of our financial information, including IRS 990 forms are available on our website.
During FY 12, 73.2% of all donations went directly to programs, while 20.6 % was spent on fundraising, and 6.2% for administration expenses.
Operation Smile will establish our new global headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia to provide a secure future as one of the world's leading volunteer-based children's charities. In its new location in Virginia Beach's 'Academic Village,' Operation Smile will have access to cutting-edge educational and medical resources, while working in collaboration with the area's leaders in medicine and education. The new site allows us to leverage the resources of these leading institutions in the area, which gives us the opportunity to expand our services and overall mission.
All funds used for the new building have been donations made expressly for the New International Headquarters Capital Campaign. No general fund donations intended to provide surgeries will be used for the construction of the new facility.
A. You can help change a child's life by sharing your time, talent and resources as a medical or local community volunteer. We need your help to share our cause, complete smile service projects and raise funds — so that children across the globe can receive free, life-changing surgery from our Operation Smile medical volunteers. Here are a few ways you can become involved:
A. Operation Smile's Medical Volunteers Action Center (MVAC) gives volunteers a centralized place for credentialing, signing up for surgical missions, and for chronicling their mission experiences through the social-networking side of MVAC. We are very excited about this initiative as it is serving to improve the overall volunteer experience. Operation Smile is a constantly evolving organization so the needs of medical volunteers will evolve, as well. We work daily to assist users and welcome any suggestions to improve the website. Please contact our credentialing department.
A. You can help change a child's life by sharing your time, talent and resources no matter where you live. We need your help by volunteering with your closest Operation Smile Foundation to advocate for our cause, assist your local Foundation and raise funds — so that more children can receive free, life-changing surgery from our Operation Smile medical volunteers. Here are a few ways you can become involved:
These needs are determined and positions are filled through the Foundation in each country. A full list of Operation Smile Foundations is available on our website. Please contact the Foundation nearest you.
A. There are great opportunities for students of all grade levels — from elementary school through college. Operation Smile Student Programs empowers youth, creating a global movement for positive change through our four pillars of philanthropy: Leadership, Education, Service, and Awareness.
More than 900 Operation Smile Student Clubs and associations around the globe build awareness, raise funds and educate students about our core values of commitment, leadership and volunteerism. When students help children in need, they learn firsthand how they can make an impact on the world and help heal humanity. To learn more, please visit our Student Programs page as well as our online student community, OS Central.
A. Thank you for expressing your concerns about the cost of the mailings you have received. In fact, the cost can be as little as a postage stamp. We have found that corresponding with our donors through the mail is an effective way to reach a wide variety of people, educate them about our programs and increase donations so that Operation Smile can provide free surgery for even more children in need.
A. We will gladly meet your request and update your communication preferences. Our mailing schedule can be customized to meet your individual needs and you can let us know exactly how you wish to be contacted. Please call our Donor Relations team at (888) 677-6453 or complete this online form.
Please note that due to our mail production schedule it may take up to 6-8 weeks for this request to take effect.
A.We are happy to help you with your request and can assist you with updating your communication preferences. Please call our Donor Relations team at (888) 677-6453 or complete this online form.
Please note that due to our mail production schedule it may take up to 6-8 weeks for this request to take effect.
A. Thank you for your generosity and desire to help more children. If you currently receive our monthly statement in the mail, please contact our Donor Relations team for assistance with your donation at (888) 677-6453.
If you are receiving your monthly statements by e-mail, you can log in to update your gift profile.
A. Congratulations to your family and thank you for so generously giving new smiles as part of the wedding celebration. We have special materials that can be customized and printed for your event. Please contact our Donor Relations team for assistance at (888) 677-6453.
We appreciate your interest in supporting specific programs and areas. To help the most children, we ask that you contribute unrestricted funding. While it is possible to have your gift directed toward a certain region or country where we are currently working, we may not have a current need in that area. By not restricting your contribution for a specific project, you will enable us to allocate our resources more efficiently and help children in areas where the need is greatest.
A. Operation Smile's goal is to provide life-changing surgery for children suffering from cleft lips and cleft palates in remote locations around the world. We have chosen to focus on the delivery of free surgery to children, rather than incurring the administrative costs of tracking and following individuals over an extended period of time. To receive treatment, children and families travel great distances to visit our medical mission sites and Care Centers. Our Post-Operative program goes to great lengths to check on the progress of children in the year following their surgery. It is during these visits that we are able to capture the photos and stories of how your donations have made a difference. We share these stories in as many ways as possible so that you can feel connected to the boys and girls whose lives have been transformed because you care.
A. Operation Smile is an international humanitarian medical charity, which provides services to children of all faiths. Our medical volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and personal beliefs.
A. Operation Smile has partnered with leading corporations around the world and is ready to develop an integrated campaign that fits your business strategy. There are a myriad of ways to create a corporate partnership with us. We customize each unique partnership and strive for long-term relationships. Contact us today to learn more about how your company can benefit from a partnership with Operation Smile.
A. Operation Smile understands that donors are moved to help children worldwide suffering from cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities. You may seek to help through in-kind donations of medical supplies or other goods, but we urge you to contact us before gathering items or making plans for an in-kind donation.
For more information about in-kind contributions, please contact us.
A. Our Smile Ambassadors not only bring awareness to our cause but they do it from the heart. The celebrities that support Operation Smile are not paid. In addition, many have participated on surgical missions and made financial contributions. A list of our celebrity Smile Ambassadors is available on our website.