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, 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Nurses stand as vital members of the Medical team during a mission, providing our patients with their expertise and empathy.
Throughout each mission day, our nurses work around the clock doing checks on each patient almost every 15 minutes, working pre and post operation, whilst simultaneously showing compassion and kindness.
A nurse’s job ranges from a variety of sections. It can involve making sure the patients have the correct medical records to helping the parents learn the correct post operative care. A mission site without nurses would be a mission site incomplete.
Meet four of our nurses who volunteered at the June 2021 mission in the UAE: Amal, Sharif, Fitz and Laura.
For each of them, volunteering with Operation Smile stood as an opportunity that helped them not only further develop their skills but to also grow as people.
Fitz, who specialises in the pediatric ICU, couldn’t pass up the chance to volunteer in his first mission, working mainly in post op care during the three days alongside some of our veteran operation smile nurses and pediatricians.
“This is my first time taking care of patients with cleft conditions, I’m very new but I’m very excited.”, said Fitz enthusiastically on the first mission day.
“ I’m very lucky to have the operation smile team to support me, especially Dr. Eeva.” Laura said, “my experiences in terms of critical thinking, problem solving and communication is what is significant in patient care and I have those skills.”
Sharif completed 7 missions this June, attending 2 international missions- one in Morocco and one in Jordan- and 5 local missions in the UAE. Outside of Operation Smile, Sharif works as a Senior Nursing Educations Officer, but during the missions, he has worked in pre and post op and as the clinical coordinator for the June 2021 UAE mission.
Amal, a pediatric nurse – learned the “importance of communication and getting the message through” to the patients in order to ensure they had all the information necessary to follow through with their postoperative care, especially when working with a variety of different languages.
Nurses stand as the bridge between doctors and patients, constantly keeping the flow of knowledge, information and practice running. Without having the continual repetition of instructions it is likely that patients forget what to do and what not to do, thus nurses help establish confidence within their patients.
Volunteering on these missions allow these medical volunteers to tap into the nurturing side of care, being able to focus on the real reason they became nurses.
Sharif warmly stated, “It’s a different perspective. You’re still doing what you’ve studied and what you’re experienced in, however you’re doing it just to help people.”
On her first mission, Laura was able to connect with one of the patients and follow along through their entire journey. “The relationship between myself, Rose, and her mum developed over the two days. I felt a real connection with the family. I felt a real connection with her. When she was anxious, I was a little bit anxious.”, Laura remembered fondly. “It was such a lovely experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.” Rose’s mom still keeps in touch with Laura to this day, frequently sending updates about Rose.
For Sharif, volunteering allows him to step away from the busy hustle of day-to-day life and focus on delivering the best possible care to the patients around him. He states, “Everyone’s coming just to serve,” which enables each person to forget any other motivations to do their job other than the basic notion of providing care. “It’s a very humbling process for anyone.”
When each of the nurses were asked whether they would continue their journey with Operation Smile, all of them enthusiastically responded with a definite yes.
“It restores your faith in humanity”, said Sharif.
Every moment has been a surprise for Rachelle since the birth of her first born son: Deron.
Deron, a beautiful and energetic 2 year old, began an unexpected journey in Rachelle’s life. Looking forward to a normal pregnancy, Rachelle never saw the challenges coming her way. All her prenatal scans had shown up normal, with almost no indication of a cleft or an extra chromosome.
Even though cleft conditions were not unknown to Rachelle, as her cousin’s daughter and neighbours had cleft conditions; it was never discussed nor talked about. “We don’t talk about it much because we might hurt the family, the mother if you talk about why they have this or why they have that”, Rachelle said.
‘Everything was a surprise to us, with the cleft and the extra chromosome’, recalled Rachelle.
Deron alongside his cleft condition was also born with down syndrome. Rachelle expressed that as a first time mother she refused to believe that this had happened. ‘I was in denial’, she said.
Prior to Deron, Rachelle had everything planned and stuck to a certain routine with little flexibility. But now things had changed. The expectations that she had set for herself and her first born had shifted.
When Deron was born, he had to stay in the NICU(neonatal intensive care unit) for a few more days for further observation making it even harder for Rachelle to absorb. Her worries revolved around how he would be accepted by those surrounding him, Rachelle would wonder, ‘How is he going to be embraced by the people around him(when he grows up)?’
It was through this journey that the support of her family and especially her husband had really come through. ‘He’s(her husband) very supportive when it comes to everything’, Rachelle said fondly.
Eventually she was able to welcome Deron as he is. ‘I was able to overcome the fear that I might not be able to give him the life he needs’, revealed Rachelle.
Rachelle and her husband, Donnie had begun their research into the condition and organizations that might help Deron and answer any questions they had, and that’s when they came across Operation Smile. They immediately sent across an email and soon became part of the UAE June 2021 mission.
Although this was not Derons first surgery- his previous being to repair his soft palate- Rachelle was still anxious and nervous. When Deron came out of surgery all Rachelle wanted to do was hold Deron. ‘I wanted to hug him tight, but I knew I had to compose myself.’, said Rachelle.
Deron sparked a new beginning for Rachelle to grow as a person, learning from all from her experiences. ‘When I had Deron I became very patient, I matured in a sense’, recalled Rachelle. She realised that life was too short to be spent constantly worrying, but rather to embrace every moment by taking a step back and understanding what her son needs.
Today, Deron is a very happy boy, always expressing himself and developing into a strong and receptive person. Although his journey in facing the world has only begun, the growing social media presence in the world today makes Rachelle a little more confident that Deron’s extra chromosome won’t stop him from being accepted into society.
When asked to say a few final words, Rachelle said, ‘I’m very thankful and I’ll be forever grateful to each and everyone because without the organization it wouldn’t have been easy for us.’
After months of prayers, two nights in labour, and 35 minutes before her mother’s birthday ended, baby Khadija arrived. This baby was indeed special.
As Aishabi held her precious baby, many questions swam in her head: Would the baby be fine? How will we feed her? Will the gap in the roof of her mouth heal on its own?
This baby had been the talk for months. Her brothers couldn’t wait to meet her and she already had her dad wrapped around her little finger. The pre-natal scans didn’t indicate anything to be concerned about and everything had gone smoothly. Even at birth, things seemed normal. The pediatrician had given them a positive response after the routine checkup.
“But she [Khadija] wasn’t drinking my breast-milk. She was crying a lot. The nurse took the baby to change her and the baby kept crying. That’s when the nurse saw the cleft palate,” said Aishabi.
At the time, Aishabi and her husband Abdul Haleem knew little to nothing about cleft conditions. No one in their family had a cleft either. Some relatives suggested that picking up a knife during a solar eclipse may have been the cause. But Aishabi and Abdul Haleem shrugged it all away and focused on their precious newborn.
The initial few months were the toughest for the family. Like all babies with cleft conditions, Khadija too had trouble being fed. Aishabi recalled nights where the baby cried throughout, falling asleep in the morning out of exhaustion.
The pandemic also meant that Abdul Haleem and Aishabi couldn’t rely on their family, who were all back home in India, for support.
“I cried a lot. I needed my mother, at least,” recalled Aishabi.
Amidst all of the uncertainty at home and out in the world, Aishabi embarked upon hours of Google searches. One day while surfing on the internet about the surgical procedures to treat cleft palates, Aishabi stumbled upon Operation Smile UAE.
“I told my husband to contact them. I saw that they had done surgeries before and thought that we could also have a chance. He emailed and alhamdulillah*, they replied immediately,” explained Aishabi.
However, at the time, medical missions in the UAE had been suspended due to COVID-19. The one step they had taken towards surgery seemed to be a step backwards.
“But they always stayed in touch with me. They made us comfortable and told us that they will do [Khadija’s] surgery,” Aishabi’s voice softened as she told her story.
Aishabi took it day by day, and with her husband’s and sons’ love and support, things started falling into place slowly. After a long wait, Abdul Haleem and Aishabi found out that their daughter was eligible for surgery in the June 2021 medical mission at Healthpoint. Khadija, along with her mom and dad, travelled to Abu Dhabi.
Baby Khadija spent time with her dad in the waiting room as they waited to be called into the operating room. After this, only Aishabi would be by Khadija’s side. Because of COVID, only one parent was allowed to be with the patient after surgery.
“It was very difficult for him [Abdul Haleem]. I know he was hurting. ” Aishabi said.
Aishabi counted the seconds and minutes to meet her daughter again. As soon as she saw Khadija after the surgery, she was overwhelmed by so many emotions. When asked how she felt after seeing Khadija, Aishabi chuckled, ”I can’t explain. It was very difficult. My tears wouldn’t stop.”
Her big brothers are even more ecstatic to meet their sister.
“You know, they are calling me every half an hour. [They say:] Amma, we want to come to Khadija. They love her so much,” laughed Aishabi.
Aishabi ended with a message to other parents who may be going through a similar experience.
“Don’t lose hope. It’s not something bad. All babies are the same, just a little different.”
Alhamdulillah: an Arabic phrase that translates to “praise be to God”.