As photographers we work hard to bring out the best smiles our clients have ever seen. When we decided to choose a charity to sponsor with our business, Operation Smile was a natural fit. Operation Smile provides free surgeries to children with cleft lips and palates in low and middle income countries.
Every three minutes a child is born with a cleft lip or palate. These facial deformities have real impacts on children’s health, as they can make it difficult to eat and increase risk of ear and dental problems, and these children are twice as likely to die before their first birthday. But beyond the physical problems, people with facial deformities are often the subjects of ostracization and ridicule, especially in the developing world, and difficulties with speech and pronunciation can make socialization and even employment much harder.
We made a decision to donate 10% of our income to Operation Smile. As we mentioned before it is a good fit for photographers, but it also has special meaning to us personally. Here’s a message from Dannie about her experience:
I was born with a cleft palate. I was very fortunate to belong to a well educated family that could afford surgery for me and Kind enough to raise me as a normal child, since this was in 1982 before cleft lip or palate had any global/community awareness. Even though I had the surgery, it wasn’t perfect and the doctor told my mother I would probably have difficulty speaking and should attend “special-needs” school. However, My parents never treated me differently. Not only did I attend regular schools, my parents even enlisted me to bilingual learning, I think I did pretty well, nowadays I can speak fluent Mandarin and English, and most people have no idea that I ever had a problem, but sometimes when somebody asks me to repeat myself I do feel a pang of self consciousness and I can’t help but wonder if it’s just the background noise or if my speech is still a little hard to understand.
I was also lucky that the deformity was entirely inside my mouth and that nothing was visible on the outside, but as a kid, I have a memory of an adult saying he could see it when I smiled — I don’t think he could actually see anything, but for a long time I tried to hide my smile because I felt that there was a stigma attached to deformities and that people would assume that I was mentally impaired as well if they knew about my problem. I don’t hide my smile anymore (as Jake will attest to), mostly because I’ve accepted myself for who I am! We all have problems in our lives, and mine is a very small one - a minor deformity for which I received treatment - but I know that some people born with cleft lips or palates don’t get treatment and don’t have the support of their communities or even their families. It makes me cry every time I think that a little girl like me might grow up hiding her face and feeling embarrassed because her parents couldn’t afford the $240 USD it takes to treat what should be a primarily cosmetic problem.
Though many diseases are more dangerous and more costly than cleft lips and palates, there is not nearly as much stigma or social difficulty associated with, say, cancer or diabetes. I am very grateful that I’m not afflicted by either of those diseases, and I think it’s great that so many people put so much into fighting them, but given the the low cost of helping Operation Smile, and the giant difference they can make in the lives of the people they treat, it has always been my favorite charity to donate to.
In addition to our annual donation of $240, we donate 10% of our income to Operation Smile (that includes portraits, weddings and studio products). Visit Operation Smile’s website to learn more about their efforts or to make a direct donation. Remember that just $240 can help a child feel as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside. That should put a smile on your face too, which will be handy when we take your photo!