I recently reconnected with an old friend, Ashley, through Facebook. While going through her photos to see what she has been up to since high school, I found myself fascinated, thankful and honored to know her. Ashley has been working for a nonprofit charity called Operation Smile, traveling the world and changing people’s lives! My heart was overwhelmed, and my admiration for her grew as I read more. After learning about her work, I was hungry to know more about this wonderful charity.

Operation Smile‘s ultimate goal is to fulfill the basic wish for a child to feel “normal.” The charity’s mission is to provide safe surgical procedures while educating the local community on how to perform these procedures to promote a long-term sustainability.

The mission states:

“We mobilize medical volunteers across the globe to treat children with cleft lips, cleft palates, and other facial deformities, and leave a legacy of trained medical professionals, surgical equipment and professional partnerships to help carry on the work after our team of medical volunteers has left.”

After visiting Operation Smile‘s website, I needed to know more about it from a personal perspective. I wanted to know how Ashley got involved, how it has changed her life and how I can help. I reached out to her to have her share her story about this incredible charity.

Why She Got Involved:

“Helping change the world is a call to action I take seriously. Attending Dominican University of California, as an undergraduate (earning my BSN) truly shaped my awareness and interest in helping make a difference in the world, and specifically with my nursing degree. After becoming qualified to assist on medical missions, I searched for the perfect fit. I found it with Operation Smile. With Operation Smile I have traveled to six different countries including Ethiopia, Cambodia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Rwanda and many more to come. Each mission involves screening hundreds of children and adults who otherwise would never afford the basics of a physical assessment, and in the end, providing to the candidates that were qualified, free surgical procedures, drastically changing lives forever in an instant. We are able to perform approximately 100-200 surgeries per mission, depending on multiple factors.

Our surgery teams are composed of surgeons, anesthesiologist, nurses, dentist, child life therapist, medical records, and student volunteers with a sponsor from essentially all over the world. The team members meet each other for the first time (ever) and hit the ground running, and within two weeks, they complete a successful mission to drastically change hundreds of lives. Although we perform hundreds of surgeries each mission, each surgery is uniquely touching and seems priceless in the moment. The overall results profoundly affect the quality of life not only for the individuals, but the family and community as well. Truly a miraculous thing to witness, nonetheless be a part of, I can only thank my lucky stars I have found my niche within this community.

I often reflect throughout the different missions on how I can become more effective. It became apparent that the persistent thread on nearly every site  was the of lack resources, accessibility to education and a huge desire to learn. Thankfully, Operation Smile has founded one of their models to help promote and sustain a legacy of growth through education of quality healthcare within the local communities.

Recently I have been fortunate enough to join in on the selective educational surgical teams with Operation Smile. These educational missions differ from our regular surgical missions as we are teaching and mentoring locals (on a smaller scale) in areas that are properly identified by the Partners in Health organizations. Through these educational missions, we are increasing competencies in training locals within the national global standards that are being implemented world wide to their local hospitals. This has been an exciting new path as I find it one of the most important ways to improve the sustainability dramatically, improving the quality of care and outcomes through universal global healthcare standards. This is now one of my professional goals and I will be expanding my education with global health while I’m attending UCSF Master of Science Degree in the Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program.

Having these amazing opportunities to help in this process has deeply affected how I view and live in this world. It also proved that while volunteering at one of my favorite local camps here in the states for kids with congenital heart disease—Camp Taylor—may have captured my heart, Operation Smile has captured my soul. I hope to only continue my growth personally, professionally and help in any way possible to make a difference in any little corner of this world. We are all connected in some way and simply have one life and one love.”

I encourage you to visit www.operationsmile.org for more information and see how you can help make a difference.