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From the Field Global

Our Year in Review: 2021

Pedro received cleft palate surgery from Operation Smile Colombia safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Camilo Zapata Fonnegra.

While our 2021 fiscal year* proved to be another challenging year for our patients, their families and our teams around the world, it also showcased Operation Smile’s commitment, resilience and adaptiveness.

The enduring COVID-19 pandemic presented our global community with adversity in myriad ways from lockdowns to food insecurity to health systems stretched beyond their limits.

Time and again, thanks to the unwavering compassion and generosity of our supporters and volunteers, our teams continued to provide patients with life-changing cleft surgery and comprehensive care amid daunting, ever-changing and complex circumstances.

Without you, we couldn’t have kept our promise of providing health that lasts for people affected by cleft lip and cleft palate living in places of need around the world. As we look ahead to our 40th anniversary, we thank you for being by our side.

*Operation Smiles 2021 fiscal year was July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021

2021 Program Highlights


97 Medical Programs
Amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we conducted 97 medical programs across 41 sites in 15 countries. Each program was led by local medical volunteer teams operating under stringent safety protocols.

12,900+ Patients Treated
We provided 12,971 patients with surgery and dental care at medical programs, care centers and partner hospitals in 23 countries last year. Our ability to provide our patients with care this year is the result of decades of collaboration with thousands of volunteer medical professionals living in the countries we serve, a majority of whom received training and education from Operation Smile. Since 1982, we’ve helped more than 326,000 people receive life-changing surgical and dental care.

27 Care Centers
Operation Smile provided patients with comprehensive cleft treatments including speech therapy, dentistry, orthodontics, psychosocial care and more year-round at 27 care centers in 18 countries.

217,800+ Patient Interactions
We provided more than 217,800 patient interactions including patient health screenings; operations and post-operative care at medical missions; dental screenings and procedures; and operations and consultations at care centers.

Keeping Our Promise

Valeria embraces her daughter, Lilia, during the 2021 Operation Smile Mexico surgical program in Puebla, Mexico. Photo: Henry Cuicas.

Valeria’s eight-month ultrasound revealed that her daughter, Lilia, would be born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. She had already lost her job as a kindergarten teacher due to pandemic lockdowns, and, tragically, her husband passed away just before Lilia was born. Grief, fear, loneliness and doubt filled Valeria’s thoughts. Still, she persevered.

And when she connected with Operation Smile Mexico, hope replaced her fear, support replaced loneliness, and care replaced doubt.

Lilia received a cleft palate feeding plate that made it easier for her to eat. She participated in virtual speech therapies that helped her emotional and speech development. Finally, at surgical programs conducted by teams of Operation Smile Mexico volunteers following stringent COVID-19 protocols, Lilia received cleft lip surgery in March 2021 followed by her cleft palate surgery in September 2021.

“This has changed my life because I know there is always a hope,” Valeria said. “I know that I’m not alone; I know that my daughter counts on people, special angels who support her, that love her. I thank Operation Smile for how wonderful you are.”

Read the whole story:

Lilia, after surgery. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Ensuring Health That Lasts 


As the pandemic impacts our teams around the world, Operation Smile remains committed to providing comprehensive cleft care that helps our patients better breathe, eat, speak and live lives of greater quality and confidence. In addition to cleft surgery, these essential treatments include speech therapy, dentistry, psychosocial care, nutritional support and more.

Across Latin America and the Caribbean, speech therapists and psychosocial care providers created virtual and telephone-based therapy programs to reach patients during lockdowns or who live in remote areas.

Learn more at:

Watch a virtual speech consultation below:

A virtual speech therapy session in Nicaragua.

Made worse by the pandemic, food insecurity threatens the lives of our patients in many of the countries where we work. Children living with untreated cleft conditions are at a higher risk of suffering from malnutrition, which can prevent them from being able to receive life-saving surgery.

Around the world, our teams ramped up efforts to support patients and their families. This included distributing packages of nutritional supplements, food and hygiene supplies as well as conducting programs to educate families about nutritious and safe foods that are available, affordable and accessible locally.

Learn more about our nutrition program in Madagascar:

Read the Q&A with Charlotte Steppling, Director of Nutrition:

A young patient in Madagascar receives ready-to-use therapeutic food, a nutritive peanut paste, to help them grow health enough to receive surgery. Photo: Henitsoa Rafalia.

Responding to India’s Delta Surge 

Some of the oxygen concentrators donated by Operation Smile India to its partner hospitals. Operation Smile photo.

At the onset of the pandemic, Operation Smile mobilized to distribute millions of pieces of personal protective equipment to ministries of health, medical volunteers and partner hospitals around the world.

So when the Delta coronavirus variant emerged and rapidly spread throughout India, our team in the country immediately took action by purchasing 100 oxygen concentrators and donating them to its partner hospitals across the nation.  

“These 100 oxygen concentrators are being used in COVID-19 wards in seven different hospitals … and have been instrumental in saving lives,” said Abhishek Singupta, the executive director of Operation Smile India.

Read the whole story:

Despite multiple waves of COVID-19 affecting their country, Operation Smile India resumed surgeries and continues to provide them when it is safe to do so. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli

Students Sending Hope

A student volunteer in Nicaragua holds a "Sending Hope" package of essential hygiene supplies to be delivered to a patient's family. Operation Smile photo.

When Operation Smile Student Programs sees a need, it challenges its student volunteers to address it. And its young leaders answered the call through the “Sending Hope” initiative.

Knowing that proper nutrition and good health are key in ensuring that patients are healthy enough to receive surgery, Operation Smile’s student volunteers were determined to make sure that patients in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay received the support they needed amid the pandemic.

Students from nine countries banded together to provide meal kits and essential care items to help patients become healthy enough for surgery as soon as it was safe to do so. So far, the initiative has helped more than 800 Operation Smile patients, raised more than $80,000 and provided families with more than 9,000 health care items.

Learn more about how students are creating a more compassionate world:


It takes as little as $240 and as few as 45 minutes to provide life-changing surgery and a bright, beautiful new smile to a waiting child.