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Supporter Story Vietnam

Witnessing Operation Smile change lives on my recent trip to Hanoi

Supporter Story Vietnam

Witnessing Operation Smile change lives on my recent trip to Hanoi


By Erwin Visser | General Manager, Enterprise Audience Marketing for Microsoft 

Volunteering on an Operation Smile medical mission in Hanoi, Vietnam, in September was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I recently wrote about some of the things I learned since Microsoft became involved with Operation Smile. As part of Microsoft’s corporate citizenship, our mission is to serve globally the needs of the communities and fulfill our responsibilities to the public. While volunteering for a medical mission in Vietnam for Operation Smile, I got to experience what that means in action when I saw in person the impact a surgery that can take as little as 45 minutes to repair a cleft lip or cleft palate makes on children’s and parents’ lives.

On the first day I arrived, I met twin baby girls who were both born with a cleft palate. Their mother, a farmer. Their father, a street vendor who sells produce from their farm. They had traveled far and were anxiously awaiting the free surgery for their children.

If you’re a parent with a child with any sort of health problem, it’s your biggest concern in life.

As a parent myself who lives in a country where healthcare is so readily available, it’s hard to imagine not being able to get the medical services you need for your child. I was deeply moved by what these Vietnamese parents of children with cleft conditions go through—seeing their children suffer and not being able to get them the surgery they need. That is, until Operation Smile arrives for a medical mission in the region.

I carried one of the twin girls into surgery. It was incredibly impressive to witness the efficiency and skill of the surgeons as they fixed this baby girl’s cleft palate. Afterward, I returned her to her parents, and you could see in their eyes the immense joy and relief they felt. Finally, they were able to end their children’s suffering—as well as their own. 

It was also amazing to see how quickly the children recover. Two days after surgery they’re discharged, and many of them are running around playing. Many of the children were even well enough to kick the soccer balls I was handing out.

You could see that they were engaged and ready to become kids again.

Children with cleft conditions live in isolation because other children don’t want to play with them. So after receiving the surgery, they are alleviated not only of the physical challenges of cleft conditions, but also the social stigma, and they can end their isolation. In other words, the work that Operation Smile does changes everything for these children and their families. 

One of the challenges in Vietnam that I learned about from Viet Nguyen, Vice President for Development and Asia Pacific Country Representative at Operation Smile, is that many children with cleft conditions live in rural areas, which makes it hard to reach the families and make them aware of how Operation Smile could help them. Yet, it’s crucial to reach them as early as possible in a child’s life, because cleft conditions can make it difficult for babies to feed.

While I was there, we brainstormed some outreach strategies using social media and building relationships with teachers in widespread areas so they can provide information to families in their school district as well as help Operation Smile identify areas in need of a mission. Operation Smile plans to use technology to help achieve its goal of eradicating cleft conditions entirely in Vietnam. For example, Operation Smile has successfully used Microsoft Office 365 applications for collaboration across the organization, including Exchange Online for cloud-based email infrastructure, Skype and OneDrive for Business for secure ways to share information and collaborate across borders through voice, video, and documents, SharePoint Online to coordinate multiple missions efficiently, and employees and volunteers use OneNote to share notes across any device. You can read about their use of Azure in their outreach effort in upcoming blogs.

On a personal level, it was such an honor and incredibly humbling to volunteer on an Operation Smile medical mission. And on a professional level, I’m excited about how we at Microsoft can continue to find ways to empower Operation Smile to reach more families and scale the life-changing work it does in Vietnam and around the world.

Do you want to get involved with Operation Smile? Learn how here

Microsoft has been teaming with Operation Smile for more than three years now. Their Mobile First, Cloud First strategy is perfectly aligned with Operation Smile technology imperatives and the context in which we conduct our work. Microsoft and partner solutions enable us to collect patient and other data offline in some very challenging environments with secure storage in the cloud where it is globally accessible for reporting and analytics. The personal dedication of numerous Microsoft executives in joining us on missions is further proof of Microsoft's commitment to our success.


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.