OPERATION Smile Inc. (OSI), an international non-profit medical service organization, will provide free surgery to at least 750 indigent Filipinos--mostly children and young adults--with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities.

The group has been conducting its “Gift of Smiles” for the last 33 years.

This year’s mission will start on June 12 and end on June 20. Surgeries will be done simultaneously in five sites across the country.

Venues

In a press conference yesterday at the Miller Adventist Hospital, one of the five sites, Operation Smile Philippines (OSP) executive director Roberto Manzano said 301 medical and non-medical volunteers from 17 nations will take part.

Miller hosted the first surgical mission by OSI in Cebu 17 years ago.

The other four sites are Ricardo Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Bacolor, Pampanga; Sta. Ana Hospital in Metro Manila; Our Lady of Mercy Specialty Hospital in Bacolod City; and Brokenshire Hospital in Davao City.

“We also have 11 metric tons of medicines, medical supplies and equipment. Our new global challenge is to eradicate the estimated 80,000 backlog of cleft cases with the primary target of 0-14-year-old children,” said Manzano.

Cleft incidence among newborns in the Philippines is said to be one in every 500 newborns, while the number of new cases reaches up to 5,000 every year.

Some 984 cleft patients were screened prior to the surgery: 203 in Cebu, 402 in Davao, 232 in Bacolod City, 137 in Manila and 118 in Bacolor.

“This is our contribution to the world. It is a spirit of bayanihan”, said OSP president Wigbert Funtanilla.

MOA

A memorandum of agreement was signed to formalize the partnership of OSI and OSP with Watson’s, Johnson & Johnson and the Mariquita Salimbangon Yeung Charitable Foundation Inc., the local site partner.

Watson’s Philippines general manager Robert Sun said they adopted Operation Smile as their flagship advocacy.

“We share company resources, employee time and leadership”, said Sun, who also spoke of Watson’s new means of amassing funds for Operation Smile missions. He said proceeds of one of their best-selling hand soaps will all go to Operation Smile.

Businessman Jose Villegas, a long-time volunteer for Operation Smile, shared how one mission restored his hopes in life.

Villegas, who has been helping Operation Smile for 17 years, developed a two-pound tumor in his chin when he was 23, which stopped him from landing a job he wanted.

Through Operation Smile, he underwent a reconstructive surgery on his lower jaw.

He now owns a bakeshop and a grocery in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. He wants to give back by donating for the surgeries.

“I came here as a volunteer. We can make the world a better place to live by giving smiles to children... Change the world one smile at a time,” Villegas said.