We were thrilled to receive this letter from 2017 Fellow Ana Rabogliatti that offers a glimpse of the work she is supporting through her placement with member organization Operation Smile, an international medical charity that has provided hundreds of thousands of free surgeries for children and young adults in developing countries who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other facial deformities. The Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program seeks to develop and nurture emerging humanitarian leaders by providing opportunities for them to work with these best-in-class organizations. Thank you, Ana!
Dear Hilton Prize Coalition,
I am writing to inform you of my past month as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow and to express my appreciation for the opportunity that has been granted to me. Within such a short period of time I have already gained a much greater appreciation of the humanitarian work in which both the Hilton Prize Coalition and Operation Smile are immersed.
I have always been fascinated by the medical field and the belief that there are issues that need to be addressed on a global scale. This is a core belief of Operation Smile and I am so proud that I have the chance to share my compassion and values with them. I owe it to the Hilton Prize Coalition for making this all possible. This Fellowship has allowed me to work firsthand to combat health obstacles faced in many countries, known as the barriers to care, and the difficulties faced when there is a lack of access to safe and timely surgery. Although I am thousands of miles away, by experiencing the procedures, organization, and undertakings an NGO as large as Operation Smile [operates across the world] on a daily basis, I have been able to work on the front lines with some of these issues and broaden my competence in the logistics of engaging in both the business industry and humanitarian field.
In this last month, I have worked closely with [co-founder] Kathy Magee and the Office of the Co-Founders, collaborating in several projects, which include coordination regarding IFS research (International Family Study) for identifying the genetic and physical determinants leading to cleft lip and palate, the Birdsong Peanut RUTF Program that provides malnourished individuals with a Ready To Use Therapeutic Food that enhances nourishment in order to achieve the optimal weight for safe surgery, and involvement in the logistics and development of Operation Smile’s International Student Leadership Conference in Rome, Italy.
I am also helping to organize Operation Smile’s 35th Anniversary gala in November. Operation Smile has taken this anniversary not only to celebrate the progress achieved in the past but to move forward in the future, with the goal of eradicating the backlog of cleft. To be part of this ambition is an honor, and I cannot express my gratitude enough for the opportunity to be so involved in such influential affairs. The Hilton Prize Coalition’s consideration and enthusiasm for the humanitarian mission is helping set a new standard for the future of Operation Smile and for philanthropic aid entirely, and I cannot wait to see the subsequent progress of my involvement, the Coalition’s relationship, and global development with Operation Smile.
2017 Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, Operation Smile
(Operation Smile Photo-Marc Ascher. Child Life Specialist Jennifer Kreimer in the OR during Operation Smile’s first mission to the Dominican Republic.)
Ms. Lucy Willis is currently completing a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship through Operation Smile, the international medical charity dedicated to improving the health and lives of children worldwide through access to surgical care. Lucy is currently a student at Emory University, receiving her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with a concentration in the field of Health Innovation. In this blog post, she writes about participating in Operation Smile’s annual International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) in San Diego, which centered on the student-driven Until We Heal campaign.
Students Addressing the Global Lack of Access to Safe Surgery
by Lucy Willis
Just over a year ago, I was staying with the Kutump tribe in Papua New Guinea on a cultural immersion trip to the mountainous region of the country. During one of the group’s guided hikes, we came across a small building that looked a bit like a trailer home, empty except for a table and small cabinet in each room. It was the first concrete building we had seen within a thirty-minute drive of the village, and since all the locals lived in straw huts, we knew it was a significant place. When we asked the guide what it was, his voice swelled with pride as he answered, “This is our medical clinic!” and added, “It is the only one for 150 km!”
While it’s easy for those of us in developed countries to take our access to basic medical services for granted, two billion people face the same obstacles to receiving care as the members of the Kutump tribe. About one third of the global population lacks access to surgical care while millions more lack access to safe, effective and well-timed surgery. In order to address this increasingly global problem, Operation Smile launched the Until We Heal campaign, a student-driven initiative to advocate for children around the world who do not have access to the care they need. As a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with Operation Smile, I have been able to participate in this campaign and work with medical professionals and students from all over the world who are committed to solving this problem. Last month, I attended Operation Smile’s annual International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) in San Diego, which centered on the Until We Heal campaign.
(The country flags of all participants at Operation Smile’s annual International Student Leadership Conference)
Hundreds of students from across the world gathered at this conference. We talked about how, in many cases, this lack of access is the result of one or more barriers to care that exist within a patient’s society. Surgical costs, poor medical or transportation infrastructure and misconceptions about surgery are just a few of the most common obstacles that our patients face every day; therefore, it is crucial that we as an organization work to eliminate these problems in order to accommodate as many patients as possible. We shared how we as students are making an impact. Our students have walked hours to a hospital in order to represent the journey many patients make when traveling to our mission sites. They have held safe surgery summits, hosted guest speakers and participated in a Hackathon to brainstorm solutions to various global health issues.
(Ana Blandon, an Operation Smile student and volunteer, shares how gaining access to safe surgery saved her life)
As the global healthcare landscape changes, Operation Smile is constantly having to re-evaluate how we provide care. What is our target group of patients? Is there a backlog that needs to be addressed? What cultural, financial or structural factors are preventing patients from receiving medical treatment, and how can we shape our program strategies to overcome these obstacles? These are the types of questions I am helping to think through today. This fellowship, and the conference, provided me with first-hand experience working with a diverse group of people, as well as a more complete understanding of innovation and implementation in public health programming.
Operation Smile is a global leader in surgery, and has been working for years to eliminate patients’ barriers to care. While eradicating lack of access to healthcare is undoubtedly a lofty goal, its success ultimately rests on that same ability to overcome various barriers to care. If the current model of operations is adapted to include more country specific programs and expand these programs throughout different regions, we can dramatically increase access to safe surgery around the world. However, this goal cannot be achieved unless we raise awareness and collectively take the initiative to work towards a solution. By allowing hundreds of students from around the world to take action through the Until We Heal Campaign, Operation Smile is expanding the reach of the organization beyond its mission sites while engaging youth in the challenge of overcoming barriers to care. My name is Lucy Willis; I am a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow and I have taken the pledge that: I will not stop Until We Heal every child.
The first recipient of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 1996, Operation Smile is an organization that truly exemplifies the spirit of the Hilton Prize Coalition. Operation Smile describes itself as an “international medical charity dedicated to improving the health and lives of children worldwide through access to surgical care.” Since its founding in 1982, Operation Smile has provided hundreds of thousands of free surgeries for children in developing countries who were born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other facial deformities. Through its reach across more than 60 countries, the organization has developed expertise in mobilizing volunteer medical teams to conduct surgical missions in resource-poor environments while adhering to the highest standards of care and safety, filling the gaps in access by partnering with hospitals, governments and ministries of health, training local medical personnel, and donating much-needed supplies and equipment to surgical sites around the world.
One of these partnerships come into particular focus through the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program in Nepal. Through a collaborative documentary, the Storytelling program showcases the work of six Coalition members that mobilized in response to the 2015 Nepal earthquake and aftershocks. In the photo below, Master Storyteller Steve Connors speaks with Dr. Shankar Rai of Operation Smile. Dr. Rai works at the Nepal Cleft and Burn Center within Kirtipur Hospital, outside of Kathmandu. Connors recounted from his interview with Dr. Rai that “the hospital wasn’t damaged in the earthquake but was extremely busy in the first few days afterwards, treating hundreds of earthquake victims.” Stories like this, of the way development organizations expanded their roles to integrate disaster response, are highlighted in the film. The other five Coalition members featured in the film are BRAC, Handicap International, Heifer International, HelpAge International and SOS Children’s Villages.
(Photo taken by Rasmi Dangol of HelpAge International Nepal)
In addition to its participation in the Storytelling program, Operation Smile remains committed to the goals of the Coalition through its involvement in the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program. This summer, Operation Smile will host a Fellow who will support its Office of the Co-Founders with fundraising/development, strategic planning projects, board leadership and research. Additionally, the Fellow will have the opportunity to travel on an international medical mission and gain first-hand experience of the organization’s global operations. In the fall, a Hilton Prize Coalition Collaborative Fellow will work alongside both Operation Smile and Coalition member Tostan in Senegal, focusing on social reintegration programs for women who have suffered from obstetric fistula.
Operation Smile’s work on behalf of children truly exemplifies the spirit of the Hilton Prize Coalition. Their commitment to Coalition programs will benefit collective impact efforts to empower communities and alleviate human suffering around the world for years to come.