2017 HPC Fellow: Ana Rabogliatti, Operation Smile

As a 2017 Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, Ana Rabogliatti was immersed in many facets of global public health programming through her placement with Coalition member 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. Ana is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies at the University of Virginia, with a focus on Environmental Sustainability. In this post, Ana reflects on her experience engaging with diverse groups of students, donors and stakeholders while working on Operation Smile’s annual International Student Leadership Conference and other important projects.

Opening the Doors for Change
by Ana Rabogliatti

As a university student selected to serve as the 2017 Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow at Operation Smile, I learned immediately that the organization has a miraculous effect on all who step foot through their doors. The collective vision to change lives captures people who’ve often had no prior experience working inside a global non-governmental organization, like me, and fold them organically into the vision. Operation Smile is all about helping children, but they instill knowledge, action and passion for continued impact all the way around. The mission of Operation Smile is deep and boundless. I’ve been changed, and am honored by the challenge and responsibility to embrace this experience as the beginning of a journey.

Operation Smile has been making a global impact through research, surgical missions, and medical education for the past 35 years. When I walked through the front door on my first day, I was welcomed into the complexities of programming that Co-Founder Kathy Magee and her team tackle on a daily basis, playing a supporting role to a variety of simultaneous projects.

Most of my focus was devoted to a Student Program “Until We Heal” campaign that culminated in Operation Smile’s annual International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC), this year held in Rome, Italy for almost 700 high school students, university students, chaperones and staff from 35 countries. Joining together to celebrate the accomplishments and progress of student-driven initiatives throughout the year, these select student leaders led forums, rallied regional clubs, engaged in problem-solving, learned more about safe surgery and global health, practiced CPR, and welcomed global speakers.

Students hold up their signed “Until We Heal” pledges (Photo: Operation Smile)

Mentoring came from motivational speakers like Santo Versace, Operation Smile Italy board member and head of Versace house of fashion; Michelle Poler and her “100 Days Without Fear” story; Ferrari race car driver, Michela Cerruti; and representatives from the United Nations and Global Fund who were once Operation Smile student volunteers themselves. The highlight of the conference – and one of my biggest responsibilities – was to help produce a musical concert promoting the Until We Heal pledge that Operation Smile “will not stop until we heal every child with a cleft.” As production assistant, I managed the venue, helped with team communication and messaging, coordinated performers and speakers, and assisted with all logistics related to sound, lighting, cues, and run of show. The celebration was a call to action for all students to get involved and make positive change in the world. Illustrating Kathy’s view that “the youth are filled with optimism,” please see the 3-minute highlight video of Operation Smile’s ISLC.

I was also a part of a large project that allowed me to increase my proficiency in research, global health, study techniques and what it takes to actually “do” research. Operation Smile and its academic partners at the University of Southern California (USC) and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) conduct the International Family Study, which is research Operation Smile initiated to identify the genetic and environmental risk factors related to cleft deformities. The research team has collected more than 12,000 individual DNA samples from 9 countries during Operation Smile missions so far. Research indicates potential risk factors such as smoking and vitamin deficiencies contribute. With increased funding and more samples, they will soon be able to process entire genomes of genetic information, which will eventually yield more comprehensive results and preventive programs.

Another area of strong focus for my Fellowship included support for the Birdsong Peanut Ready-To-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) Nutrition Program, which is a new arm of intervention for Operation Smile. Malnourished cleft patients who are denied surgery due to underweight issues now have a therapy available to restore nutrition and increase eligibility for surgery. This eliminates one of the barriers in accessing safe surgery, and can enhance nourishment for an individual for up to a year. Since this project is relatively new, with the peanut-based RUTF distributed in just 8 countries so far, I was able to understand the program development, phased growth, obstacles and potentials involved with the start-up of an extensive global project.

I plan to continue my program interests as Operation Smile’s intern this fall, expanding my experience to advance the existing university program within Operation Smile’s Student Program landscape. To do this, I’ve enlisted the help of a selected University Committee to develop the first-ever National University Conference in January 2018 for university-only students. With a leadership focus, the conference will be designed to support college-level curriculum. Speakers are being selected in a way that will best aid college students in their graduate and post-graduate opportunities with Operation Smile, and other NGOs and health organizations.

I requested to continue my work with Operation Smile not because I must, but simply because I choose to follow what Operation Smile instilled. A desire to do more, contribute more, and help lead the charge for positive global impact. Thanks to the support from the Hilton Prize Coalition, I gained an unyielding sense of determination to further my own humanitarian efforts, and will forever be an Operation Smile ambassador, opening the doors for change.

(Photos courtesy of Operation Smile)

About The Hilton Prize Coalition
The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow the Hilton Prize Coalition on Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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