By Alexandra C.
Born with a severe face deformity, Ammulu has been the subject of ridicule by other children for five years. This deformity has hindered her speech and has made eating and drinking difficult. Her parents feared for both her heath and future, but their financial state prevented Ammulu from getting the surgery she needed.
Ammulu is one of the 200,000 children born each year with a cleft lip and a cleft palate, which are hereditary conditions that cause openings in the lip, the roof of the mouth, or the soft tissue in the back of the mouth. Now, however, Ammulu is now one of more than 160,000 children who have experienced the aid of Operation Smile.
Operation Smile is a worldwide organization that provides surgeries to repair cleft lip and other facial deformities. Last school year, Angela Kim, now a senior, and Benjamin Shin, a member of the class of 2011, started Operation Smile at South. Kim first heard about Operation Smile from her friend’s father, Dr. Pyo. He is a plastic surgeon who is involved with Operation Smile and has traveled to Kenya to fix facial deformities in both adults and children.
Once Kim heard about Dr. Pyo’s efforts, she wanted to help Operation Smile to the best of her abilities. She was inspired by his work and wanted to help people with facial deformities. However, she knew she needed the support of others with more leadership experience. Kim introduced Operation Smile to her friends. This year, Kim is co-president of Operation Smile with senior Julia S.
As time progressed, Operation Smile became more than just a way to raise money to help people with cleft lips. Kim said, “Not only are we raising money for people with cleft lips and palates, we’re also raising awareness throughout our community. People often do not know what cleft lips are. They don’t know that there is an organization that is trying to help these people out. They often do not know the influence of these facial deformities on these people’s lives. Often, kids (with cleft lips) can’t go to school. Other people hate them because they look weird. People call them devil’s children.”
Julia S. added, “By definition, Operation Smile is, as Angela said, bringing awareness of the club to the community and raising money to help those who have cleft lips. In depth, I think that Operation Smile is where various people around our school community gather and think of new ways to help people around the world; thus the purpose is not only to raise awareness, but also to raise school spirit.”
Adviser Mr. Joseph Ko said, “It’s really rewarding to see such proactive students take charge and exercise leadership responsibilities. The students have been very organized with planning meetings, recruiting new members, and thinking of ways to raise awareness of what Operation Smile does on behalf of children around the world.”
Last year, the Operation Smile club raised a total of $927, which funded four surgeries. In the past, the club raised money through bake sales.
“My goal for this year’s Operation Smile club is to go out and have outside fundraising,” Julia S. said. “Last year, we only did bake sales and not many things were going on outside of school, but this year, the board and I will do the best we can to do something outside of school.”
Operation Smile is thinking about planning an event similar to South’s annual autism walk and Relay for Life, in order to let people know about the efforts of Operation Smile and become aware of the struggles of victims of cleft lips and palettes.
Operation Smile encourages teamwork among the members. One of the main goals of the club is to promote an image of unity and to create a zone of comfort for the members.
“Operation Smile may seem like a small club, and that is totally fine because this year is only the second year of the club,” Julia S. said. “But this club has been progressing over the past two years and this was only possible because of our active members. I am proud of our members and their work. Sure, at times the board pushes members to be more active, but we do this to be united as one.”
The club also encourages underclassmen to take a role in Operation Smile. Both Kim and Julia S. focus on creating leaders rather than followers.
The club is now focusing on spreading awareness of its activities throughout the student body. The club meets on Mondays in room 414.