A Letter From Our Co-Founders
As we reflect on the past year, we’re very excited to show you all that we’ve accomplished with your help and support and to invite you to become a part of our Operation Smile family.
Without the steadfast commitment of our global community of volunteers, staff, partners and supporters, Operation Smile simply wouldn’t be able to restore the health and dignity of our patients and to change the lives of so many. Since 1982, Operation Smile has had the opportunity to provide exceptional surgical care for patients and families affected by cleft lip and cleft palate. While accomplishing that, we have simultaneously strengthened the infrastructure of the surgical care systems in the communities where we work.
Over the years, we’ve found that children are the catalysts that allow us to have a better understanding of our world and the diversity of cultures within it. It’s through children that we can see the future of our families, our communities and the world around us.
As we have often said, “A smile is the beginning of love.” If we enable people to smile with one another confidently, we believe that people will love each other in a more pure and gentle way.
We recognize that the most significant lessons that we’ve learned throughout this 36-year journey have involved our children. Even though all five of them became part of the Operation Smile family very early in their lives, they continue to play significant roles within the organization at every level today. We hope to encourage you to involve your family so that you can see the benefits of that involvement, as well as witness your children help to keep the passion and commitment of the organization rooted in the hearts, minds and actions of many.
We cannot thank you enough for giving Operation Smile the ability to continue to expand our compassion worldwide. We remain driven by the fact that the need for caring is great. Our resolve to deliver life-changing and life-saving surgery to people where it’s needed most goes to the core of who we are.
Let’s continue to nurture the best in our children and grandchildren, thereby allowing them to be a member of the global Operation Smile family. Thank you for joining us.
The Lives We Touch, The People We Heal
Where safe and essential surgical care is inaccessible or unavailable, Operation Smile activates a community of compassionate people who are bound by the common thread that makes up the fabric of our global movement – those who believe that when you give selflessly to a child, it’s a gift to the future.
When we meet families affected by cleft who live in some of the most impoverished and marginalized communities in the world, we’re reminded of the transformative effect that surgery can have on the lives of people like Dede and his daughter Clara, who was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate in a tiny, remote village in the highlands of Madagascar.
After Clara was born, her mother refused to acknowledge Clara as her child and abandoned their family. However, her father, Dede, loved Clara unconditionally and remained committed to find a solution for his daughter.
When we first met Dede, he told us how he and Clara walk more than two hours over hills, across rivers, through rice paddies and down dirt roads – barefoot – just to reach the nearest health clinic from their home.
It was on one of the journeys to that clinic that Dede saw a poster promoting an upcoming Operation Smile medical mission, and that the organization could provide Clara with a free surgery as well as cover the cost of transportation and lodging.
Hope returned to Clara and Dede for the first time in eight years as they boarded a bus that would take them to the Operation Smile medical mission site in Antsirabe, Madagascar. There, Clara received the cleft surgery that changed the course of her life.
We believe that empowering local health professionals through training and education creates surgical solutions that last. This commitment is seen in our work in Ghana; in January 2018, Operation Smile Ghana hosted its first mission supported by nearly all local medical volunteers.
Sustainable Solutions in Action
Four years ago, families living in the most remote and impoverished areas of Ghana remained out of Operation Smile’s reach despite it running consistent medical missions. As a result, fewer and fewer patients were showing up to receive care, putting our work in the country at risk. But then-volunteers Sabrina Ghiddi and Clement Ofosuhemeng knew that our patients were out there, and they had a plan.
Clement and Sabrina mounted aggressive cleft awareness and patient recruitment campaigns that resulted in hundreds of potential patients arriving to each mission thereafter. Their efforts ushered in an era of incredible growth for Operation Smile Ghana. Fueled by investments in the training and education of local volunteers led by medical director Dr. Opoku Ampomah, Operation Smile Ghana is now the largest provider of cleft surgery in the country.
And in January 2018, the organization reached a major milestone by hosting its first medical mission ran by nearly all Ghanaian volunteers.
“You can see that this has helped to increase the capacity of the local staff and it’s helping them to deliver better, quality care not just for patients with cleft, but for all of the other patients that they see,” Opoku said.
Thanks to the unwavering determination of Operation Smile’s team of volunteers and staff in Ghana, their initiative has catalyzed similar outreach programs in many of our sites, allowing our organization to reach more families in need of care.
Care for Brighter Futures
As efforts from local missions continue reaching more patients, the demand for year-round care intensifies. Operation Smile care centers deliver comprehensive treatment that extends beyond surgery to fulfill the distinct medical and emotional needs of patients and their families.
Centers of Hope
On the day that was supposed to be the happiest of her life, Maria was met with confusion and fear in the moments after giving birth to her son, Oscar.
She was devastated and blindsided when a doctor told her that Oscar had a cleft lip and palate. This day would’ve been the beginning of a long and painful journey for Oscar if Maria hadn’t learned about Operation Smile and its care center in Bogotá, Colombia.
Through his vision of offering patients ongoing treatment, Operation Smile Colombia Founder Carlos Arturo Vargas established centers to deliver comprehensive cleft care including psychology, speech therapy and orthodontic care, giving patients like Oscar the best possible chance for healing physically and thriving emotionally.
Operation Smile care centers aim not only to heal patients, but also to provide families with critical support like education courses that help mothers like Maria feel confident through every step of the cleft care process.
Today’s Work, Tomorrow’s Solutions
In the most marginalized areas of the world, people need safe and exceptional surgical care, but they can’t access it because physical and emotional barriers stand in their way.
Operation Smile works toward eliminating this gap.
In addition to the surgeries we deliver at medical missions and care centers, our dedicated medical volunteers provide training and education opportunities for local health professionals who are elevating surgical standards where they live.
Today, more people are being educated, more families are being reached and more lives are being saved.
More Than Smiles
In Ethiopia, many patients are forced to wait months – even years – for the surgery that they need. That’s because there are little more than a dozen reconstructive plastic surgeons serving this country of 105 million people, and most of those doctors live in and around Addis Ababa, the capital city. For people living in more remote areas like those surrounding Jimma, safe and timely care was out of reach for most.
But thanks to the vision of Operation Smile volunteer surgeons like Drs. Per Hall and David Orr, patients needing reconstructive plastic surgery can access it closer to home. After receiving years of training through Operation Smile, Dr. Daniel Getachew established a plastic surgery ward at Jimma University Specialized Hospital, where more surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and other health care providers are being trained to alleviate suffering and save lives.
Cleft surgery is only one aspect of the training; our surgical training rotations in both Ethiopia and Rwanda are also teaching general surgeons techniques in reconstructive plastic surgery to heal trauma and burns, which are the areas of most significant need for reconstructive plastic surgery and expanded surgical care.
By partnering with ministries of health, academic institutions, corporations, local health professionals and other nongovernmental organizations, our goal is to change lives and revolutionize how entire health systems deliver surgical care where we work.
Innovating With DePuy Synthes
Building on three decades of partnership, Johnson & Johnson and Operation Smile joined forces to drive surgical innovation in 2018. We collaborated with DePuy Synthes, a part of Johnson & Johnson Medical Device Companies, to develop the Tissue & Palatal Retractor Set, which was unveiled at Operation Smile Global Headquarters in April. Designed with a global perspective, the set eliminates the need to identify and sort instruments, and fits into all global variations of tabletop sterilizing units.
Smile With Lay’s
We’re proud to partner with a diverse array of corporate partners whose support allows us to extend our impact to more people and places. Between February and April 2018, we teamed up with Lay’s to create a ripple effect of smiles across the U.S. with the #SmileWithLays campaign! Specially designed “Smile Bags” were available in all major retailers where Lay’s are sold, and the results were tasty: The bags ushered in a significant increase in sales over the same period in 2017! Thanks to the successful campaign, Lay’s made a $1 million donation to Operation Smile.
Surgery for the People
Over the past 36 years, we’ve witnessed firsthand how limited health systems can be in places of dire need. Going beyond delivering cleft surgeries at medical missions, we also strive to create solutions that elevate surgical standards where we work.
One of those places is the remote northeastern region of Nicaragua. Resources were so limited at the primary hospitals in the towns of Siuna and Bonanza that doctors once had to use improvised nonmedical equipment to deliver care. Even running water in the operating rooms was unsanitary and unfit for surgery.
But today, Operation Smile is teaming up with Nicaragua’s Ministry of Heath to improve the surgical facilities at these two hospitals. Supported by the UBS Optimus Foundation, the “Surgery for the People” project seeks not only to improve surgical infrastructure, but also spread awareness about treatable medical conditions to the people of the region.
The initiative is already making an immense impact.
From staffing the hospitals with much-needed assistance, to placing adequate medical equipment in the hands of doctors and nurses, the people living in and around Siuna and Bonanza now have access to care in their communities, saving them days of expensive travel and lost wages by not having to go to Managua to receive safe surgery.
As we look ahead to 2019, we’re also ramping up surgical infrastructure improvement projects in Madagascar and Vietnam.
From March to September of 2018, the Surgery for the People biomedical team repaired more than 200 pieces of critically needed medical equipment that were in disuse, saving more than $316,000.* With the aim of reducing the percentage of equipment failures attributable to human error, the team initiated a series of workshops for the clinical and surgical staff. As a result of that enhanced education, patient care and efficiency at the two hospitals in Siuna and Bonanza have improved.
*These figures were derived from field reporting and are dynamic and subject to change.
We believe that investments in surgical care delivery today will create a better world tomorrow. We also know that investing in people – from rising medical professionals to advocacy-minded students – ensures that our impact will be felt for generations to come.
Empowering the Next Generation
One way to change the future is by empowering the next generation of leadership. As advocates of children living with cleft conditions, Operation Smile student volunteers are encouraged to spread awareness, raise funds and build compassion around the world. In Italy, our International Student Leadership Conference united more than 650 students, chaperones, volunteers, speakers and staff from 30-plus countries around five influential lessons.
We’re committed to ending people’s needless suffering and encourage the world to understand how cleft conditions affect those born with them and the benefits of treatment as early as possible in life. We’re also committed to proving that it’s possible to change the world through kindness and generosity.
Read more for our financial statement and board information.
We hold ourselves accountable to the trust you place in our work to improve health and dignity through safe, effective and timely surgery.
Committed to being the best steward of your gifts, we direct funds to programs that bring the highest standards of care to people living with cleft and other facial and dental conditions. Our stringent medical standards require the purchase of high-quality, and therefore high-cost, medical supplies, which are then shipped worldwide to our program sites. We send skilled medical and nonmedical volunteers to be beside patients who need them. By training and credentialing local medical professionals, we empower them to deliver world-class care in communities where they live. For patients and families facing financial hardship in order to attend our programs, we cover the costs of transportation, lodging and food. By partnering with national governments and other organizations, we’re working toward long-term health system improvements so that future generations can receive care in their communities. It’s our honor to participate on the world stage of surgical innovation and excellence to raise awareness about cleft conditions, safe surgery and the need for more equitable health services globally.
Most importantly, we pride ourselves on following the highest standards of accountability, effectiveness and efficiency.
As one of the largest volunteer-driven surgical organizations, Operation Smile celebrates the hundreds of employees around the world who work tirelessly to ensure that the organization continues to extend its impact. Our heartfelt gratitude also goes out to the families of employees and volunteers whose sacrifices make our life-changing work possible.
Photo and Video Credits
We work with an incredible group of visual artists who connect global audiences to the heart of each story we tell.
Their approach to portraying the beauty and dignity of patients, the passion of volunteers and supporters, and the orchestration of our medical programs allows us to experience an indelible memory in the moment that the video or photo is captured, no matter where we are in the world.
Daniel Aldamiz, Marc Ascher, Oli Cohen, Bobby Cullipher, Martin Flink, Laura Gonzalez, Ashley Gutierrez, Jörgen Hildebrandt, Markus Jordö, Markus Junghard, Zute Lightfoot, Alejandra Mejías, Fran Mendez, Rohanna Mertens, Paul McReynolds, Kat Millar, Margherita Mirabella, Andrés Morantes, Chris Naum, Samuel Nilsson, Laura Portela, Kirby Repolido, Carlos Rueda, Jasmin Shah, Reinaldo Ortiz Toledo, Kristy Walker, Jacob Watson, Justin Weiler, Beny Zambrano and Epidemic Sound.