Rotary Club of Ajijic member Ruben Pettersson, a long time Rotarian,  gave an excellent presentation during our September 27 meeting about Operation Smile, the organisation he has been involved with for many years. 
This  year marks the 10th anniversary of Operation Smile, since it became an A.C. They actually started operating in 2004.
Ruben showed brochures with before and after pictures, and explained that Operation Smile, a worldwide effort, does on average 5-6 missions a year in Mexico.
A mission means a 2-week involvement of a 75 medical volunteers group, consisting of seven plastic surgeons, nurses and other staff. This group arrives on a Wednesday. On the Thursday and Friday they do the evaluations. On average 200 kids show up, usually accompanied by parents and other family members. The group then selects 110 kids, the maximum they can handle, according to the kids' state of health because cleft palate surgery is an invasive one. On the Saturday the group gives seminars, Sundays are off.  On the Monday they start the surgeries which typically last from 7.00 a.m. until 7.00 p.m.
Operation Smile pays for the airfares, hotel, etc. of the medical volunteers while the local D.I.F provides shelter for the kids and their families during this period.
The hospitals also have to be paid; only some hospitals provide everything for free.
The surgeons are all highly trained; Operation Smile sends them to the USA for training, to become familiar  with the specific techniques. The surgeons travel worldwide and give up two weeks of their working lives each time, which can be translated into something like US$25.000 moneywise.
Ruben was saying that some 3500 kids are born with cleft palate each year in Mexico. Only 10% are taken care of. Those are the kids whose parents can afford the surgery, of who have insurance. The rest of these kids have a miserable life because they are often ridiculed and shunned in their community and consequently do not go to school.
Unfortunately, not much research has been done into the cause of the condition. A certain percent is genetic. Diet also has an influence, and drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy. Another possible cause is the lack of B12 and folic acid during pregnancy.
Operation Smile would like to help many more kids than they currently can. Sometimes as many as 400 kids show up. Ruben was saying that one time, in Guadalajara, kids showed up from 12 states.  
Operation smile does corporate fundraising in Mexico, and here at Lakeside they are working on sponsorships of 5000 Pesos that individuals can participate in and that will pay for a whole day of surgeries in Guadalajara. So far, they have performed five cleft palate surgeries on Lakeside kids.  
For more information about the program in mexico, visit