We are so honored to have this amazing collaboration with the Operation Smile Foundation. Most often our CAS students would refer to working for them as one of the best experiences of their school career!
The Operation Smile Foundation is a big non-profit charity that has offices in 38 countries around the world. It has been active in Thailand since 1997 and its purpose is to provide safe surgeries to underprivileged children and young adults in order to address facial deformities such as cleft lip, cleft palate and burns – the best part for the families is that the surgeries are done free of charge!
Operation Smile goes on a mission in Thailand 4 times a year. During this mission, families will get all the help they need within a few hours, during which they see several specialists and receive the correction surgery done. Operation Smile covers the costs and fills the financial gap families sometimes have due to traveling days. Aftercare, like speech camp or speech therapy, is also provided.
We spoke to Dean Adrian Madeira (Student Programs Manager) about his work for the foundation and the cooperation between Operation Smile and St. Andrews. St. Andrews has been supporting this Foundation for a number of years now.
Dean has been working for Operation Smile for over 3 years now. He used to be a Kindergarten teacher. He is very passionate about youth and curious about the how and why of people: What drives them? How did they become the way they are?
His philosophy is that things that happen to you during life make you who you are. He wants to stand up for children who don’t have a voice and this path brought him to this exquisite foundation.
Students from St Andrews usually join in on September’s mission. Being able to go on a mission for Operation Smile makes students accelerate their own development as well. By seeing what happens with their assembled money, the change the surgery provides for the helped kids, the new future that lays ahead for them. An operation gives the children and their families a new future, a new smile, a new life.
We spoke to Sam, a year 13 student who has been helping the foundation for over a year now.
“It started in year 12 as a CAS opportunity. Out of many applicants I was one of the students who got through. I already knew the operation before the mission because the school organizes a fair where they collect money for them to pay for the operations, but I didn’t know how impactful working with them would become for me.”
The first thing you did for the operation was going on a mission. How was that for you?
“It was the best! It was absolutely amazing.One of the greatest experiences of my life because it was such an incredible week! I have always been a hands-on person who likes to help people. Spending time at school, starting donations for them, organizing my friends to get as many donations as we could, packing and traveling, spending a week up there with the patients and helping out on the mission the whole time: it was incredible and so impactful! To see the direct change, to be there with the patients, entertaining them, comforting them, getting to know them in spite of the huge language barrier. It was incredible to be a part of that. The difference you can make as a person is unbelievable.”
Out of all of the things you’ve done, was this operation the most impactful?
“I would say so. We went and we had a break afterwards. I went home to see my family and I just couldn’t stop talking about it. It was amazing to go there with the things we’ve collected. We were the only school who had collected something to bring up. We used all our luggage space to bring stuff that we collected from the school community. The kids light up seeing the stuffed bears, coloring books and all the other things. We taught the old kids how to play card games, we learned how to twist balloons for the younger ones. It felt so fulfilling because we made them smile. The parents started off reserved but warmed up so quickly. It’s so sad that it only lasted for a week. I felt so sad leaving.”
So you got the opportunity to go on a mission. You said earlier that the students also organize fairs. How does that work?
“When you’re a year twelve student you get the opportunity to organize a school fair. We coordinate each tutor group to have a stall and we have tickets that we sell. The money we collect goes strategically to charities. All the money people spent to play games or eat food goes directly to the operation. All the stuff we brought to the operation was donated.”
Are there other ways you or the school collect money for Operation Smile?
“We also have the Island Communities at school, and each year these communities also choose a charity to donate money to. The school likes to support them annually but also regularly. The operation really can rely on us and our support.”
Did the mission change you as a person?
“I would say so. I knew that I like to help people and that I love to make a difference. Before the mission I did student counseling and I was an Island community leader. Being able to organize everything and then go there and stand in front of the person you see where your effort is going was the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever felt. You can do a lot indirectly and obviously it helps, but being present and helping in person is a completely different experience and I think everybody should experience that. Now I know I want to make a direct change to people’s lives.”
Thank you so much for your time.
“It was an honor. I want to create awareness and encourage other students to don’t hold back if you have a chance to help this foundation and go for it because it will change your life forever. Even if you don’t feel comfortable interacting with strangers or you feel insecure, it doesn’t matter. More people are like that but you go there and it’s like a fresh slate. You start fresh with everybody and you go up from where it starts.”
If you want to read more about this fascinating foundation please go to https://operationsmile.or.th/