During Operation Smile's 30th Anniversary medical missions to the Philippines, we conducted more than 8,000 free healthcare evaluations and performed 1,219 free reconstructive surgeries.
Here is the story of two little girls whose lives were changed forever as told by volunteer Alison Smyth.
While traveling last week for a follow-up with two sisters I met during Operation Smile's 30th anniversary medical missions in the Philippines, I began to recall the first steps of their journey that I had documented in November.
I met little Jheleen and Andrea at their humble home in Manila, Philippines, on a warm afternoon late last year. I was there with volunteer videographer Jason Eng to film and document what would be a life-changing experience for these girls and their family.
The sisters were shy and very serious, but from the beginning their devotion and love for each other was obvious.
When Jheleen was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, her mother was devastated. Then, a year later, Andrea was also born with a cleft lip. A local doctor told them surgery could be performed, but not until the girls were 7 years old. It was such a long time, and the cost was prohibitive for this hurting family.
Hope came unexpectedly when a neighbor gave the family a flyer about Operation Smile's medical mission in Cavite, where the girls were able to receive free surgery to repair their cleft lips.
One of the most amazing experiences I have had in my 14 years as an Operation Smile volunteer came as the two girls were reunited together, with their parents, after surgery.
Once fully awake, the sisters could not keep their eyes from each other's beautiful new smiles.
As their mother held little Andrea in her arms, she cried as her young daughter was able to say "Mama" properly for the first time.
As I walked into the room at the Comprehensive Care Center in Manila four months later, anticipating the arrival of the two little girls who stole my heart, the beautiful girls jumped into my arms smiling from ear-to-ear, with no sign that they had ever had gaping holes in their mouths.
In this moment, I understood that I was blessed to witness how these children's lives have been changed by supporters from around the world, like you, who they would never meet.
In April, the girls’ journey to a new life will be completed when they both come back to the Comprehensive Cleft Care Center in Manila for surgery to repair their cleft palates…
Their dream will finally come true.