People making ripples – Bill & Kathy Magee, Operation Smile

Two people who have certainly made significant ripples around the world are Bill and Kathy Magee, founders of Operation Smile, an international medical organization. Operation Smile performs hundreds and thousands of surgeries in low to middle income countries for those born with cleft lip and palates. Their mission is to deliver free and safe surgery to those who need it most. 

‘In life there are no ordinary moments, we took these moments and ran with them’ – Bill and Kathy Magee 

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The Beginning 

Bill and Kathy founded Operation Smile 35 years ago. Their journey began in 1982, with their first trip out of the United States to the Philippines. Bill was a trained plastic and craniofacial surgeon and Kathy was a nurse and clinical social worker. During their first year in the Philippines they witnessed 300 families seeking care for children with a gaping hole on their lip or roof of their mouth. It was clear that their skills and training were vital in order to change thousands of lives for the better.

However, at the time they didn’t have the infrastructure or supplies to help these families. However, they knew they were capable and that these children urgently needed their help, so they planned their return. 

‘Love is a decision to make somebody else’s problem your problem’ – Dr. Bill Magee 

Photo credit Operation Smile

Operation Smile Now 

38 years later and Operation Smile works in over 34 countries, has a volunteer base of thousands who represent over 60 countries and has transformed hundreds of thousands of lives. However, despite the hard work carried out over the years, it is estimated there are still millions of children waiting for care. This is because most families who require medical care do not have access because it is too costly, far away, or specialized.

Greater than 70% of the world’s population do not have access to timely, safe and affordable surgical and anesthesia care should they need it (Meara, Global Surgery 2020). Operation Smile and their cleft lip and palate expertise is working to create solutions to this that deliver safe surgery to where it is needed most. 

Every three minutes, a child is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate.

All the volunteers at Operation Smile share the belief that safe surgery is not a privilege but a universal human right. It clear that the lives of those who have received surgery are not the only lives that have been changed forever. The impact of being a volunteer on these medical missions and part of a global team is life changing.  These volunteers give their time, passion, and hearts to everything that they do for these children therefore they also deserve to be recognized as people making ripples. 

Greater than 70% of the world’s population does not have access to timely, safe, and affordable surgical and anesthesia care should they need it (Meara, Global Surgery 2020).

Student Programs 

Operation Smile’s incredible work does not end here, another component of Operation Smile is their Student Programs division. This provides students the opportunity to learn about volunteerism and support Operation Smile’s work by raising funds and awareness. Since the mid-1980s, Student Programs have grown to involve thousands of students in hundreds of student associations around the world, all which Kathy is deeply involved in. 

Photo: Margherita Mirabella
Source https://www.operationsmile.org/surgery

Part of Student Programs is the annual International Student Leadership Conferences (ISLC) which works towards inspiring students and creating new global leaders. It is held in different universities around the world in countries such as China, the United States, Ireland, and Italy. Around 600 students from over 20 different countries attend. The conference allows students to develop and strengthen their leadership skills and character, provides training on how to help those in developing countries, as well as exposes them to different cultures. They are also provided the opportunity to train for the role of ‘student volunteer’ on an Operation Smile medical mission. Attendees really learn the power of leadership, overcoming obstacles and what it means to make a difference.

Impact of COVID-19 

Operation Smile as an organization who work globally has been greatly impacted by COVID-19 like many others. All International Missions have been postponed resulting in a huge back log for patient’s surgeries. However, the Operation Smile volunteers are doing everything they can in the meantime. At the start of the pandemic all PPE equipment stored in warehouses was donated to local hospitals, medical missions are being carried out by local volunteers where it is safe, technology is being used for online speech therapy session and consultations along with many other forms of mobilization. So, although many activities have been postponed, the volunteers of Operation Smile along with Bill and Kathy are always looking to see how they can improve the lives of others, inspire and be the change that they wish to see in the world. 

‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world’ – Mahatma Ghandi 

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