Back in December 2021, the first stone was laid as construction began for Operation Smile Guatemala’s new comprehensive care center.
“That stone represented the dream of thousands of Guatemalan families,” said Operation Smile Guatemala Executive Director Bea Vidal.
In March 2023, volunteers, staff, donors, patients and their families gathered together to celebrate the grand opening of the Bill and Kathy Magee Comprehensive Care Center in Guatemala City.
Utilizing the hub-and-spoke model of care delivery, which leverages local leadership at well-equipped and staffed “hubs” to extend care closer to the remote communities and to empower “spoke” partner hospitals, Bea and her team have implemented a strategy to reach more patients in more places with its two existing spokes in Petén and Escuintla and this new center serving as the hub.
“We have a very clear decentralization plan for the next five years. The decentralization plan means to be closer to our patients,” Bea said. “The hub-and-spoke model works in our country because we have this commitment to reduce the barriers of health care from the patients in the rural areas. Guatemala is divided by four regions, so our plan is to be closer to our patients and establish a spoke in each region.”
Operation Smile has established 35 care centers in countries all around the world, including Honduras, India, Peru, Morocco, Italy, Colombia and more. Centers equip in-country teams with the infrastructure and resources needed to provide patients and families with year-round multidisciplinary care services such as orthodontics, psychosocial care, nutrition and much more.
For many families, this type of health care isn’t easily accessible. Oftentimes, patients are traveling hours from their homes to reach the closest hospital or clinic.
“Sometimes, people think that because you don’t have any resources in the rural areas, you deserve less. I don’t think that. I truly believe in dignity,” Bea said. “Even when you don’t have the resources, everyone deserves high-quality. Everyone.”
Named in honor of Operation Smile’s co-founders, the center provided an opportunity for Bea and her dynamic team of innovative volunteers and staff to shine a spotlight on the two people who started it all 40 years ago.
“They believe in the dream to see the whole world smiling,” Bea said. “It was a great opportunity to give them the recognition that they deserve as dreamers. We need leaders in this world, and we need to expose how one single dream could become a huge dream all over the world.”
The Bill and Kathy Magee Comprehensive Care Center will deliver seven comprehensive care specialties, including speech therapy, pediatrics, genetics, dental care, nutrition, surgery and psychosocial care.
“On the first level, we have the medical residency for the medical personnel who rotates within the hospital. The second level is the Operation Smile Guatemala center, and the third level is going to be the shelter for the hospital patients and our patients,” Bea said.
Having attended the center’s inauguration, Bill and Kathy are confident that Operation Smile Guatemala has enhanced cleft care for the entire country.
“It’s a team that just won’t stop,” Kathy said. “They feel like every child counts, whether it’s their speech, their dental work, nutrition. Everything counts for that child to give them the best quality of life, to get to school, to eat, to have friends and to have a future.”
Alongside its devotion to increasing access for quality cleft care, the new Operation Smile Guatemala center will invest in sustainability.
Bea fully believes that the commitment of local volunteers is invaluable and that without their innate passion to improve the lives of others, Operation Smile couldn’t deliver its high-quality cleft care around the world.
“We’re going to have education initiatives within the center in oral health with the support of one international and local university,” Bea said. “This is the way that we’re expecting to have more scope. To focus on education initiatives for our volunteers in a way to recruit more potential volunteers and train them with the value of our standards.”
The center launched Operation Smile Guatemala into the next era of transforming lives. Serving as the core for patient care, education opportunities and partnership, the Bill and Kathy Magee Comprehensive Care Center aims to provide 1,500 patients with care as well as 10,000 consultations each year.
“I appreciate more than you can ever imagine – the opportunity. To be able to see the dedication and the heartfelt passion of the people here to create a center,” Bill said. “Not only does the human talent come into that, but the message that it delivers backs up that human talent and gives the opportunity for excellence. It’s the composite of those things together. And I’m telling you, Guatemala represents all of that.”
With thousands of people still living with untreated cleft conditions in Guatemala, the local team recognizes the longterm and life-changing impact the center will make as it knocks down the barriers preventing patients from reaching the timely surgery and care they deserve.
Countless families affected by cleft can spend months, even years, searching for a solution. As Operation Smile Guatemala continues to evolve and mobilize more trained health care professionals, the hope is that when a mother gives birth to a child with a cleft lip, she will know exactly where to go.
“I feel this passion. To see Guatemala in the spotlight and to tell people in my country and outside my country that we can do things right,” Bea said. “If we work together, we can be stronger in a country that has a lot of needs.”
The center serves as a conduit for care. With its grand opening, more medical professionals have the means to gain new skills and knowledge for building capacity in the country.
This leads to more families becoming aware of solutions available to them, which then leads to more patients receiving new smiles and living lives of greater confidence and dignity.
“For us as Operation Smile Guatemala and for me as a leader in my country, this is just the beginning,” Bea said. “We have the commitment with them. We have the commitment right now more than ever.”