Our Guest House has been quiet for a while so we’re excited to liven it back up with Kathy Magee, Co-Founder and President of Operation Smile. Some of you may know that we chose Operation Smile as our partner organization this year as we team up with Barnum’s Animals for our 3rd year of creating their special addition box. Operation Smile, who is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, has an incredibly worthwhile cause of helping people smile. Lilly knows a thing or two about that, so we thought it was the perfect organization to partner with to brighten people’s days. We wanted our Lilly Lovers to know more about Operation Smile so we kicked back with Kathy and asked her to fill us in…
1. Tell us a little bit about Operation Smile
Operation Smile is an international charity that works in more than 60 countries to provide free reconstructive surgery for children suffering from facial deformities such as cleft lips and cleft palates. We have mobilized more than 5,000 medical volunteers from over 80 countries to help us transform lives and heal these children’s smiles. We also are committed to training local doctors so that we can create self-sufficiency in developing countries. By building local medical capacity, we are able to dramatically increase access to safe surgery for vulnerable populations worldwide.
2. What prompted you and your husband, Dr. Bill Magee, to found Operation Smile?
Almost 30 years ago, Bill and I volunteered for a surgical mission to the Philippines. There, we encountered hundreds of children suffering from facial deformities. However, our team was only equipped to help a small number of those children. We vowed that we would be back to help those children we had to leave behind. It was this experience that drove us to establish Operation Smile.
Every three minutes, a child somewhere in the world is born with a cleft. One in 10 of those children will die before their first birthday. They often can’t eat, drink or speak properly. Our volunteers, donors and supporters are determined to help us make a difference for these children and heal their smiles.
3. We understand Operation Smile is celebrating a milestone in 2012, can you tell us more about that?
This year marks our 30th anniversary. While we started in the Philippines, today, Operation Smile is one of the largest volunteer-based surgical charities in the world. We have focused our efforts to build a sustainable medical infrastructure in our partner countries which has resulted in nearly 60% of Operation Smile’s surgeries being performed by highly-skilled in-country medical volunteers. Operation Smile trains local doctors and other medical personnel, donates crucial medical equipment and supplies, builds public-private partnerships, and strengthens local health systems.
From the very beginning, we also knew that engaging youth was crucial to creating greater awareness for the issues surrounding clefting, and to ensuring Operation Smile’s long-term success. When students have a better understanding of what is happening in their global communities and learn the importance of giving back, they develop into philanthropic leaders who are better prepared to make a difference. Now, there are now more than 900 Operation Smile Student Clubs and associations in over 50 countries promoting the core values of commitment, leadership and volunteerism.
4. Is there a recent story that has struck a chord that you’d like to share with our readers?
My husband and I recently met a 3-year-old little boy in Texas named Joshua who was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. He was still suffering from an open cleft lip, which is unusual for a child his age in the United States. Every day, Joshua and his family experience the pain of having people point and stare at him as he walks down the street. Joshua is a reminder that there are hundreds of children in the U.S. who are born with a cleft each year.
Joshua was introduced to Operation Smile through one of our Smile Ambassadors, Mike Adams – a Major League Baseball pitcher for the Texas Rangers – and his wife, Shelly, whose second son was also born with a cleft. They met Joshua at the mall, where his grandmother had taken him for a photography session. Mike and Shelly were determined to find help for Joshua through Operation Smile. Joshua’s surgery is now scheduled for June, and my husband, Bill, will be performing the surgery.
5. If Lilly Lovers wanted to support Operation Smile and spreading smiles across the world, how could they do that?
Operation Smile wouldn’t exist without the support, passion and dedication of our volunteers. In addition to our medical volunteers, thousands of community advocates worldwide work tirelessly to raise awareness and funds for Operation Smile, so we can provide free surgeries for even more children in need who are waiting. We encourage Lilly Lovers to visit our Web site at www.operationsmile.org and find ways to get involved.
6. Where can we follow all the great work that you’re doing?
For more information on Operation Smile’s global efforts, visit www.operationsmile.org, follow @operationsmile on Twitter, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/operationsmile