For the past nine years, we’ve been proud to support Operation Smile, a charity that treats children with cleft palates. In that time we’ve donated more than 8,000 cases of surgical gowns and 1.5 million pairs of surgical gloves. We also give our staff the opportunity to volunteer for missions each year.
What is Operation Smile?
Chances are you’ve never met a child with a cleft palate. In most developed countries, they are corrected soon after birth by a simple operation that leaves children with nothing but a small scar. Elsewhere in the world, though, it’s a very different story. Cleft palates can be a severe impediment, both practically and psychologically. As well as difficulties with breathing, feeding and speech, they can cause a range of social problems, including ostracism. This can be so extreme that some parents even abandon their children.
It was the profound social and emotional impact of the condition on children and their families – and how readily it can be corrected – that prompted US medics Bill and Kathy Magee to found Operation Smile. In 1982, they were in the Philippines as part of a small mission to operate on a few patients. As they left, the mother of a child gave them a simple gift of bananas, not because they’d treated her daughter – they hadn’t had enough time to reach her – but because they’d come, and they’d done as much as they could. Bill and Kathy knew then that they would dedicate their lives to helping children with clefts.
Fast-forward 30 years and the charity has transformed the lives of over 200,000 children in 60 countries. Gary Scott, a weaving team leader at our plant in Oldham, UK, has been twice, once as a staff volunteer and then in his own time. “When the children arrive, they all walk with their faces looking down to the floor or a hand covering their mouths to hide their clefts,” he says.
“After the surgery, every single parent has one reaction – they burst into tears of joy and relief. The gratitude is quite overwhelming and, at the end of each day, Operation Smile volunteers would often be gathered together, overcome with tears by what we’d been involved in.”
Below are the stories of two of our staff who’ve volunteered recently for Operation Smile missions.