Operation Smile and the Gertler Family Foundation—Making a Difference in the DRC
“If they can cure me I am happy to become normal.”
How important is a smile? A simple smile can bring hours of happiness: it can change the entire day for someone experiencing hardship, and it can transform strangers into friends. But billions of people around the world cannot smile. What more, the condition of their face brings shame, sadness and isolation into their lives. They are those born with the congenital defects cleft lip and cleft palate.
Operation Smile was created to give these individuals a new lease on life, and a chance for normalcy. Founded in 1982, the organization coordinates medical missions around the globe, sending teams of experts to the most remote locations to perform surgeries to correct the deformities of cleft lip and cleft palate. Operation Smile came to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2009.
The Gertler Family Foundation partners with Operation Smile
The Gertler Family Foundation (GFF) became a major sponsor of Operation Smile in the DRC since 2011. GFF began by supporting a medical mission to the DRC’s capital, Kinshasha, enabling hundreds of operations to take place. From this beginning, GFF increased its partnership with Operation Smile, and in 2012 a second site opened in Lumbumbasha, Katanga Province. During this year, the Operation Smile provided facial reconstructive surgery to more than 300 Congolese people.
The Operation Smile mission to the DRC is no secret. GFF made available a van to get the word out to as many people as possible, including those without television or communication devices, so that no one would miss out on the opportunity to benefit from the medical mission. When the local residents heard that Operation Smile was coming to Kinshasha and Lumbumbasha they were ecstatic. Some walked for miles for the chance to look like everyone else.
GFF’s sponsorship covers not only the surgeries, but it also covers the logistics around the mission like expenses of food, linens, educational materials and follow-up services, all equipment, and accommodation and refreshments for concerned family members traveling from a distance to support their loved ones.
The difference in the appearance of those who benefited from the project, before and after, is stunning and a testament to the profound medical skills of the professionals involved in the mission. But the biggest difference is the patients’ smiles… Now there are smiles to light up even the darkest nights. Now they are normal.