Friday, November 6, 2009

Operation Smile Vietnam

It is worth taking a look at the Operation Smile website for the 20 Years of Smiles Celebration in Vietnam

You can see videos and pictures on the home page, read stories from the volunteers, and take a peek in the media room which has a number of documents to download if you want to read more about the various aspects of the work they do and you can even make a donation.

I had to share just one story from their field stories - read this if you ever doubt the power and effectiveness of love and compassion to change the world.

October 21, 2009

Celebrating 20 Years of Smiles

Dr. Bill Magee and John Connor organized the first mission to Vietnam in 1989.

At my 25th high school reunion in 1987, I reconnected with an old friend and classmate, John Connor. As we caught up on life and our work, I told John about Operation Smile, which over the period of five years had established medical missions in three continents, helping children whose smiles had been lost to congenital deformities, war or disease.

John, a Vietnam veteran, worked on Wall Street but was also active in veteran affairs and helping bring home POWs and MIAs. He expressed great interest in helping our cause.

That year, on Christmas Day, John called me to discuss a new development. Vietnam was interested in getting help for disabled children in their country.

John thought Operation Smile’s charity work could help create trust and open dialogue between two war-torn countries. For Kathy and I, this was an opportunity to bring healing to children, to two countries, and to test the powers of human kindness.

The next twelve months were very active. Negotiations continued between Washington and Vietnam over sending an Operation Smile team to Vietnam.

On August 8, 1988, we went to Hanoi and met with top medical officials, including Dr. Nguyen Huy Phan. In addition to balancing the skepticism and anxiety of local officials with the excitement of local doctors and patients, it quickly became obvious that there wasn’t a system to take care of the enormous number of Vietnamese children who needed surgery. But this didn’t stop us from trying.

Six months later, in February 1989, we brought 10,000 pounds of supplies and a team of 38 medical professionals, including seven Vietnam War veterans, and worked side-by-side with Dr. Phan and his team of Vietnamese surgeons to repair the cleft lips and cleft palates of 100 children. The week was not filled with hatred; it was all about coming together, restoring life and helping children.

At the time we were unaware of the impact we had in showing compassion, love and concern for those children. In caring for their children and building trust, we established a level of medical diplomacy without even realizing it, which in turn created tangible and dramatic results. MIAs were returned to the U.S. because of the relationship created with Operation Smile. We were able to bring together people from different cultures and backgrounds and focus not on what makes us different, but what makes us similar. Through the faces of the children we helped heal, we created a bridge between our cultures. Children are the only language that all of us have in common.

Following our first mission to Vietnam twenty years ago, Dr. Phan became one of Operation Smile’s most instrumental advocates, helping found Operation Smile Vietnam and build the infrastructure to provide year-round care for the children of Vietnam. Although Dr. Phan passed away in 1997, this historic mission in honor of our 20th anniversary celebrates our country’s friendship and camaraderie, as well as our common bond to help make sure that every child in Vietnam has a chance at a normal life.

The true measure of our long partnership is the children we help. Over 30,000 children in Vietnam now have new smiles. And it all began with one man reaching out to help heal a former enemy and his country. Unfortunately, my good friend John Connor passed away from non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Though he is not here to see the ongoing results of re-establishing relationships with Vietnam, he leaves a legacy of thousands of smiling faces.

Thank you for all your support and thank you to Operation Smile Vietnam for your dedication to helping heal children’s smiles. Our 20th Anniversary celebration and A Journey of Miracles is the beginning of a whole new era and Kathy and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it.

- Dr. Bill Magee
Quoted from Operation Smile Vietnam


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