During most Operation Smile missions, our patients, many of whom have traveled 15+ hours to get to the mission site, are housed at a shelter where they stay for the duration of the mission. On our most recent mission to Cape Coast, Ghana, in partnership with other NGO’s including the Peace Corps, The Africa Rights Initiative (ARII), and the Just Care Foundation, we ran workshops at the patient shelter with one objective: to help people to help themselves.

ARII, a local non-profit, is a volunteer-based international relief and development organization responsible for promoting human dignity and sustainable livelihood in Africa. The organization is supported by the Just Care Foundation and together, they delivered skills development training in bead making, weaving and batik tie-dye making, a typical local wax fabric dying. To ensure the audience could benefit from the newly acquired skills, another local NGO, I-Vol AFRICA, ran several modules of basic microfinance to teach parents and guardians how to raise funds to purchase the items to run a business and learn how to market and sell their products, what to do with the revenues they make, how to save, how to reinvest, and what to spend.

Sabrina Ghiddi, advisor for Operation Smile, had the opportunity to participate in more than one medical mission and witnessed first-hand the impact of Operation Smile in the life of the patients and families.

“Looking at the number of days patients and guardians had to stay for the medical mission, and the brief time needed for the surgery and the recovery, we saw an opportunity in capitalizing the time available at the shelter with something that would add up to the new smile the patient has, bringing a lasting change also to the guardian and to the community where they live,” said Ghiddi. “We achieved this through workshops that would enhance their skills and knowledge with the aim of fostering their mindset to enable them to go back to their villages with a brighter outlook for their life and the one of the community as they would share what they had learnt at the shelter.”

When the medical mission concluded, the 45 volunteers, doctors and nurses came to the patient shelter to see the impact of the shelter workshops. Following a thank you celebration, the new artisans were able to showcase their new craft, and volunteers were able to view and purchase the goods they produced, such as purses, slippers, bracelets, and fabric. With these funds raised, Ghiddi purchased for the patients a ‘starter kit’ that they will use to start their new venture.

“I was so impressed and touched by the ingenuity,” said Operation Smile volunteer nurse Heather Harper. “It goes back to the saying, ‘Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime!’ I love to see independence fostered and confidence strengthened, especially among women!”

In addition, ARII and Just Care also delivered a child development training with the aim of helping families of Operation Smile beneficiaries with the needed skills and relevant worldview to enhance childcare and child support at the family level. This is to ensure that parents and guardians take part in the issues that affect the growth and development of their children to ensure that the operated children can in the future thrive and develop fully so that they can also contribute meaningfully to national life as they grow.

Throughout the medical mission, the Peace Corps volunteers were also extremely active in organizing workshops around AIDS/HIV, health and nutrition, hand-washing, and Ebola. Lastly, there was a training delivered on clefts. This was aimed at removing any association with spiritual curse that is very common in Ghana.

“I was very impressed to see that Operation Smile, along with local charities, really embraces the future for people and not just the present,” said Electronic Medical Records volunteer Maria Bryant. “I would hope to see this model recreated in other mission sites ultimately putting smiles on even more faces for many more reasons.”

“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President