Healthpoint’s Dental Interns reflect on their experience volunteering with Operation Smile UAE

Dental interns from Healthpoint with Dr. Ilhaam (centre) during patient screening in November 2023.

As Healthpoint dental volunteers with Operation Smile, our journey has been a fulfilling odyssey of compassion and care.

Through screening, diagnosis, and the meticulous delivery of presurgical and postsurgical instructions of new- borns to adults, we’ve played a pivotal role in ensuring comprehensive dental care for patients with cleft lip and palate.

Witnessing the resilience of these individuals, we were pleasantly surprised by the positivity that permeated every interaction. Not only did we have the privilege of imparting crucial patient education, but we also found immense satisfaction in enlightening parents about the importance of oral health.

The experience has not only deepened our professional expertise but has also reaffirmed our commitment to Operation Smile’s noble mission of transforming lives through surgical and therapeutic interventions.

We thank Operation Smile for the chance to lend a helping hand.

‘An indescribable imprint on my heart’

Ghaith, a volunteer cleft surgeon with OSUAE,

describes his experience at the June mission in Ghana

OSUAE volunteer cleft surgeon, Ghaith (centre) with patients during the surgical mission in Ghana (Credit: Operation Smile UAE)

In June, I embarked on a life-changing mission with Operation Smile to Koforidua, Ghana. This journey took me to a place where hope and transformation thrived, where lives were forever altered. Among the many incredible stories I encountered, there was one that touched my heart deeply, leaving an indelible mark on my soul. It is the story of a 25-year-old woman who had lived her entire life with a complete cleft lip, yet managed to find love, start a family, and finally, receive the gift of a transformed life.

The Arrival in Koforidua:

As our team arrived to Koforidua, the air was filled with anticipation and excitement. We were greeted warmly by the local community, who had longed for the arrival of Operation Smile’s medical volunteers. The mission aimed to provide life-changing surgeries to individuals born with cleft lips and palates, granting them the chance to smile with confidence and live without the burden of their condition.

The 25 year old patient Dr. Ghaith operated on.

Meeting the 25-Year-Old Woman:

Among the patients we encountered, one woman’s story stood out from the rest. She was a 25-year-old lady, who had lived her entire life with a complete cleft lip. Despite the challenges she faced, she had managed to build a life filled with love, hope, and resilience. She had gotten married and recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl.

The Transformation:

As a member of the surgical team, I had the privilege of operating on her to repair her cleft lip. The surgery was a success, and the following day, as I walked into the ward, I was greeted by a sight that brought tears of joy to my eyes. There, holding her baby girl, was she, looking like a completely different person.

The Joyful Encounter:

For a moment, I was taken aback, as I mistook the baby for the patient. It was only when I remembered that I had operated on the mother that the realization of her transformation hit me. Her radiant smile and the newfound confidence in her eyes were tangible evidence of the profound impact that the surgery had made on her life.

A Life Transformed:

Witnessing her caring for her little girl was a testament to the life-altering change that Operation Smile had brought to her. No longer burdened by her cleft lip, she now had the opportunity to embrace motherhood with renewed self-assurance and optimism. Her transformation reached far beyond physical appearance, extending into every aspect of her life.

Conclusion:

My experience with Operation Smile in Koforidua, Ghana, left an indescribable imprint on my heart. Through witnessing that lady’s transformation, I realized the immense power of a simple surgery to bring hope, joy, and a brighter future to individuals who had endured a lifetime of challenges. As I continue on my journey as a medical professional, I carry the memories of that lady and countless others like her, inspiring me to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Operation Smile’s mission in Ghana exemplified the true essence of compassion, unity, and the transformative power of a smile.

Sheets for Malawi

In March Operation Smile UAE answered the call from Operation Smile Malawi for urgently needed linens for their cleft and burns unit at a hospital in Malawi.

Marriott hotels in Abu Dhabi, who are long time OSUAE supporters, donated gently used sheets and towels, as well as a venue to sort the items.

Over four days more than 15 community and five student volunteers joined the Operation Smile UAE team to inspect, sew, and pack the linens. One room was set up as a sewing room, where volunteers (some of whom brought their own machines!) hemmed the sheets to the required size. In another room a team inspected, sorted and packed the items to ship to Malawi.

The sheets are already in use in Malawi.

We had so many sheets that we were also able to send a suitcase full back with Richmond, a medical volunteer from Operation Smile Ghana who attended our recent surgical mission in Abu Dhabi.

This Ramadan Light The Way with Operation Smile UAE

This Ramadan, join Operation Smile UAE in their campaign to #LightTheWay for those affected by cleft conditions by spreading awareness and encouraging donations.

This campaign focuses on giving hope and healing to those who need it most. Let’s come together this Ramadan and show that we can make a difference in the lives of children with cleft conditions. Let’s light the way for those in need, and help them find their way to healing and hope.

As little as 880AED helps provide surgery to a child with a cleft condition. This is possible thanks to the generous contributions of medical professionals who volunteer their time and expertise, as well as corporations that donate critical supplies and equipment necessary for safe surgery. This cost includes expenses incurred for essential medical team members to be at a surgical program, the expenses for additional required supplies and cargo shipping costs.

At Operation Smile, we envision a future where health and dignity are improved through safe surgery. Our mission is to create solutions that deliver safe surgery to people where it’s needed most, and through our expertise in treating cleft lip and cleft palate, we are making this a reality.

Help us #LightTheWay this Ramadan by spreading the word, donating or taking part in the various activities organised throughout the campaign.

Download the patient information leaflet here

Download the information leaflet here

Operation Smile Egypt Mission Jan 27-Feb 2, 2023

At the end of January, eight Operation Smile medical volunteers from the UAE and seven guest volunteers from Mubadala who sponsored the mission, joined other international and Egyptian volunteers at the Operation Smile Egypt surgical mission in Aswan, Egypt.

During the busy six day mission,143 patients were screened, with 78 receiving corrective surgery for their cleft condition.  

OSUAE would like to thank the hardworking UAE medical volunteers who attended, as well as the team from Mubadala.

Mubadala’s recent MOU with OSUAE will ensure that two more international missions are funded this year, providing many more new smiles to children in need.

Watch the video to see how Operation Smile changed lives in Aswan, one smile at a time. 

Mubadala, Operation Smile UAE partner to sponsor three international volunteering missions

Homaid Al Shimmari, Deputy Group CEO and Chief Corporate and Human Capital Officer at Mubadala (left) and Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, Minister of State for International Cooperation and member of the board of OSUAE during the signing ceremony in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI, 19th January, 2023 (WAM) — Mubadala Investment Company (Mubadala), signed an agreement with Operation Smile UAE, to sponsor three international volunteering missions in 2023.

The first mission will take place at the end of January going to Egypt, where its employee volunteers will support children and adults as they undergo transformative procedures for cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial anomalies.

The agreement was signed by Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, Minister of State for International Cooperation and member of the board of OSUAE, and Homaid Al Shimmari, Deputy Group CEO and Chief Corporate and Human Capital Officer at Mubadala, in the presence of H.H. Sheikha Alyazia bint Saif Al Nahyan, Founder, Chair of the Board and Patron of Operation Smile UAE, and wife of H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

The partnership with Operation Smile UAE was established as a result of Mubadala employees’ eagerness to support international causes that support children, as well as the important work the charity executes for communities worldwide.

Sheikha Alyazia said, “Operation Smile UAE has grown and accomplished so much since 2011 and we are delighted that Mubadala has agreed to partner with us and share our vision of providing surgeries for all children with cleft conditions. By sponsoring three international missions Mubadala will help us reach children throughout the world who would otherwise not have access to safe surgical care and not only improve their lives but the lives of their families and communities. We continue to encourage others to support our cause and share our belief that every child deserves a smile.”

OSUAE-Mubadala-1-1-300×276.jpg

Al Shimmari said, “As a global and responsible investor, we proactively seek ways to engage and make a positive difference in the communities where we deploy capital. It is an honour for our employees, through our Employee Volunteering Program, to partner with Operation Smile UAE. In our fifth year of volunteering and as we continue to make a tangible positive lasting impact.”

A total of five volunteers from Mubadala ─ will support the mission across several areas including child-life area support, data collection and patient screening and applicants’ registration, they will be joined by six of our Operation Smile credentialed medical volunteers from Mubadala Health – a network of world-class healthcare providers. The volunteers include one surgeon, two anaesthetists, two nurses and a dentist.
Mubadala’s Employee Volunteering Program is a purpose-driven engagement platform that provides meaningful opportunities for employees to contribute their time, skills and charity to the community. The Program was launched in 2018 with a focus on supporting the Special Olympic World Games and has continued to evolve, enabling the organisation to make a difference through volunteering activities in line with its responsible investment approach.

Operation Smile UAE partners with Appolonia World for Orthodontics & Pediatric Dentistry

Appolonia World Group signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the non-profit organization Operation Smile UAE, as part of the ongoing commitment to providing health care to children residing in the UAE.

Appolonia World Group for Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Operation Smile UAE (UAE chapter of international charity Operation Smile) to enhance ways of cooperation in providing dental and oral health care to patients with cleft conditions.

The agreement was signed by Dr. Yaser Haj Hamed, CEO and founding member of the Appolonia World, and Morag Cromey-Hawke, Executive Director of Operation Smile UAE.

The memorandum of understanding works to consolidate the partnership between “Operation Smile UAE ” and “Appolonia World Group” and unify the efforts made by both sides to serve the community and its members based on social responsibility, especially for children under eighteen, to provide the necessary health and treatment care, in addition to awareness campaigns and periodic educational programs for the community.

Ms. Morag, the Executive Director of Operation Smile – UAE, said: ” OSUAE is delighted to be able to collaborate with Appolonia World Group to provide more comprehensive care to our patients with cleft conditions in the UAE. Care does not stop with surgery and this partnership will allow us to ensure that our patients receive the best care possible for their dental and orthodontic needs pre and post-surgery. We are extremely grateful to Appolonia for their generous contribution and support. ”

In this regard, Dr. Yaser Haj Hamed, CEO and founding member of the Appolonia World, said: “This agreement crowns our solid partnership with Operation Smile UAE, and the close cooperation therein will have a strong imprint in our serious work towards children of all nationalities.” He added: “The goals of Appolonia World Group are based on reaching every child in the world, providing the best-integrated health care, and drawing a smile on all the children of the world. Our partnership with Operation Smile UAE will enable us to improve the health and lives of children in the UAE with cleft conditions.”

This memorandum is an extension of the activities of Appolonia World in all local, regional and international fields related to scientific studies, research, and strategic partnerships directed at volunteering and charitable services. Appolonia World Group is recognized as one of the most prominent specialized clinics for Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in the Middle East and has many branches in the UAE. And it is well known for its voluntary awareness programs for all children of all ages and campaigns for free screening and treatment.

Operation Smile is a global nonprofit specializing in expert cleft surgery and care. They provide medical expertise, research and care through their dedicated staff and medical and student volunteers around the world, working alongside local governments, nonprofits and health systems and supported by their generous donors. Since 1982, Operation Smile has been committed to providing patients with health that lasts through life-saving cleft surgeries and comprehensive care, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live lives of greater quality and confidence. Our training and education programs elevate safe surgical standards and strengthen a global network to reach more people earlier in their lives.

From hatred to acceptance – Ericka’s journey of self-love

By Adryka Vats, U-Voice Student Storyteller 

Ericka in 2022

On the 8th of October, a couple was blessed with the birth of their beautiful daughter, Ericka. She was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate.  How she looked didn’t matter to them. All that mattered was giving her the best life possible.

Ericka knew she was different. As a young girl, it bothered her. The weird stares from strangers and the hurtful words of kids dented her self-esteem. ” I used to be alone. I hated people. I hated myself,” she said as she reminisced.

However, her family stood by her like a rock. She considers herself fortunate to have their constant love and support.

“I’m here because of them,” she said. Without them, her journey would have been far more daunting.

When asked if she knew why she was born with the condition, she simply said she doesn’t know. She never tried asking her parents either as she didn’t want to let them relive the pain and is happier not knowing.

“I never asked them,” she said, “I don’t want them to feel sad.”

As she sat in the hospital seating area for the 1-week follow-up of her 5th surgery, she saw the other patients who were all babies. She felt a connection with them but knows that each one has a different story.

However, they were all united in the fact that their lives had changed. That was something really special.

As she looks back at her journey, she feels very happy and proud. She said, “It was hard, but I made myself strong.”

Getting out of that depressive and self-destructive abyss was tough as a young girl but she ‘wanted to push herself’. She knew she was much more than her cleft condition and wanted to channel the true Ericka she is.

She pursued her hobbies like playing varsity table tennis at a high school and college level. She finds joy in playing the guitar and singing. Currently, she is in her dream job as a pastry chef coming up with crazy creations of her own. She is truly a testament to how hard work and determination can overcome any obstacle you face.

In the past, the constant bullying and lack of acceptance from society forced her into isolation. Depressing thoughts loomed over her head.

“Why am I like this?… Why me?… Why am I here if I’m like this?”

After 25 and 5 surgeries later, she found the answer. She is special. She believes she was chosen out of many to go through this because she was stronger than many. What was once her greatest weakness is now her greatest strength.

When asked if she had any advice for patients going through what she did, she said:

“Just believe in yourself. Believe in yourself. Accept yourself. Love yourself. This is the most important thing. Before you love others, you need to love yourself and accept who you are. The second thing is to push for your dreams, whatever your dreams are. No one can stop you. “

With two of her latest surgeries happening through Operation Smile, she has nothing but gratitude towards them. “Operation Smile gave me hope. They gave me so much hope for myself. They changed my life,” she said.

Not only did Operation Smile support her through surgeries, but also helped her find a job she loves and navigate life in the UAE.

“I’m very happy; I feel amazing about myself,” she said as she described how much Operation Smile impacted her, “They’re like my family.”

Ericka’s story outlines how Operation Smile is a community that comes together to provide holistic care. Care doesn’t stop at surgery but goes beyond.

While talking about her future she mentioned, “I want to become stronger. I want to help other patients.”

Ericka embraces her condition and is always ready to talk to others about it. She’s attended many Operation Smile UAE events and numerous U-leads as a speaker and, she continues to raise awareness and spread positivity surrounding cleft conditions.

Having gone through the stigma first-hand, she makes sure to do her bit and is Operation Smile UAE’s biggest supporter.

Ericka with OSUAE Exeutive Director Morag

Volunteer Stories : NYUAD Students work with Operation Smile UAE

Photo shows student volunteer Alex taking photos of an Operation Smile UAE patient's cleft palate
NYUAD Student Volunteer Alex (left) with Patient Imageing Technician, Pearly (right) taking photos of an Opeartion Smile UAE patient during a check up

By Adryka Vats, U-Voice student storyteller 

Operation Smile UAE has had a long-lasting relationship with New York University, Abu Dhabi. Strengthening that bond, in the March 2022 mission at Burjeel Medical City, three NYUAD students came on board. They all came in with curious minds and compassionate hearts and left with a bag of memories and lifelong lessons.

Tatiana, majoring in Biology, joined the medical mission as a Medical Records Assistant.  She had always been aware of Operation Smile through alumni and developed an interest in its work. The name was always familiar to her so when she saw an opening in the medical mission, she took that as a sign and went for it.

Faisal, majoring in Biology, helped out as a Patient Imaging Technician. He particularly related to Operation Smile’s work as he hasfamily members with cleft conditions. Since he attended high school in AbuDhabi, he was well-acquainted with the organization. When the opportunity to participate in a medical mission came by, he knew it was meant for him and applied right away.

Alex, majoring in Biology, also assisted as a Patient Imaging Technician. Unlike Tatiana and Faisal, Alex wasn’t really aware of Operation Smile’s work. He found out about it through a job posting and was drawn to the opportunity.

For all of them, the fact that they were able to get some experience in a medical setting but also have the aspect of helping people was perfect.

When asked about their experience at the medical mission, Tatiana mentioned how she always has had an ‘up down’ relationship with medicine.

She said, “When you get immersed into the technical aspect of medicine, you forget why you initially wanted to do medicine. So, this was wonderful as it reminded me of why I chose this as a career path for me.”

Tatiana particularly loved the collaborative environment and the fact that she was making an impact.

“I loved existing in such a dynamic environment where you’re not doing things just for the sake of doing it and you lose track of time,” she said.

The exposure of talking to doctors was an insightful one. She left feeling inspired and connected a lot of her moments back to her home country, Lebanon.

NYUAD student Tatiana reviews medical records during a screening session for Opeartion Smile UAE.
Credit: Operation Smile UAE

Faisal answered by saying, “Ilearned more in these past few days than I have in months.”

He got the opportunity to discuss a surgery which he found fascinating. Moreover, seeing the dramatic change in patients and parents made him realizethe sheer impact of Operation Smile.

“It really puts things in perspective,” he said, “We spend the entire week stressed about exams but things like this just make you realize that there are so many other beautiful things.”

He enjoyed seeing the behind-the-scenes work that goes in prepping patients for surgery. He loved the fact that Operation Smile UAE was so accepting and was filling in the gaps in the healthcare system.

Reminiscing about the mission, Tatiana realized that it doesn’t take a lot for people to make a change.

“It just takes a few people who have the skills and capabilities to say yes,” she further said, “Medicine is seen as such a lucrative job but just seeing doctors who want to do this because it’s a calling is inspiring.”

Faisal added to that by saying “People devoting themselves to helping other people is way more than just a profession. It becomes part of your identity.”

Alex answered, “We woke up at 5:40 am and came here and all the surgeries were done by 2 pm. Look at the number of things you can get done by waking up early. You literally changed the lives of 6 people.“

He further elaborated, “With the right objective and the right mindset and a little bit of investment, you can really make a difference.”

NYUAD student Faisal (right) spends time with a patient during the Operation Smile UAE medical mission at Burjeel Medical City, Abu Dhabi. Credit: Operation Smile UAE

For Tatiana, she was particularly struck by how each and every person remembered each patient’s name.It’s a small detail but signifies a lot. “Just the fact that you follow these people so closely throughout their lifetimes is so fulfilling and so inspiring. This is the kind of medical professional and person I eventually want to be,”she said.

We certainly don’t know what the future holds but their ultimate goal is to get into medical school, set up an NGO-like Operation Smile, and make an impact through their work.

For anyone thinking about joining Operation Smile, here’s what Tatiana had to say:

“Go for it and don’t be afraid to ask questions! I think compassion is the most important thing and if you’re here then you’re the right person to be here.”

Just like every volunteer, this medical mission created a hugeimpact on them and has prepared them for the future.

Whether it was Tatiana’s infectious laugh or Faisal’s intriguing conversations, or Alex’s Korean talk with student volunteers, they all brought something special to the mission.