Putting our Spring Breaks to Shame: Alisha Gupta’s Mission to Morocco for Operation Smile

While many students were relaxing at home and on beaches over spring break, Alisha Gupta was flying half way across the world to take part in an Operation Smile mission in Ouarzazate, Morocco.

Operation Smile is an international organization that repairs cleft lips and cleft palates of children around the world. They operate mostly in areas of low economic development where a large portion of the country’s population is below the poverty line. They strive to provide surgery options for these people as only 6.3% of surgical procedures go to the poorest third of the global population.2120602

Alisha took part in a UVoice Mission, which brings students from both high school and universities to Operation Smile Mission sites to observe what the doctors do and the differences the organization makes.

Having attended the annual International Student Leadership Conference in California prior to her trip as well as standing as President of Operation Smile @UVA since last year, Alisha had already dedicated much of her time to the organization prior to her trip.

While she was there, she was able to shadow and help the University of Southern California research team who were testing genetic influences on cleft lip and palate births, as well as see the surgeries being performed. On a more personal level, she spoke to many of the families of the patients to get a better understanding of their background, needs, and general lifestyle.

“Being able to shadow the research team was especially cool because that is something that I want to pursue after college,” Alisha said. “The team gets to be exposed to so many different cultures and experiences, and they also show how Operation Smile is expanding beyond just surgery, they are looking for causes and cures to the birth defect, which is a step closer to reducing the immense need.”

The benefit of the program is that students are able to document their experiences on social media through photographs and articles, spreading the message and support to a broader base of people.The program also can have an effect on the students too. “My involvement with Student Programs has shaped my personality through the conferences, leadership opportunities, and medical missions,” Alicia said. “Operation Smile is the only organization that allows students to have these hands-on opportunities at such a young age, while fostering leadership skills. It exposes students at a young age to real world issues, allows them to connect with other students around the world (whom I’m still friends with), and helps them find something to care about.”

Operation Smile has recently joined a movement with the G4 Alliance for international surgical advocacy, and continues to research for causes and cures of the birth deformity. They are heavily involved in the communities they enter into: “they aren’t trying to just impose American ‘HELP’ on impoverished countries, they focus on including and training the local doctors and nurses to sustain constant local missions, even when an international team isn’t there.”

Alisha also emphasized that Operation Smile isn’t just about fixing a cosmetic problem. “Although you might think cleft lip and palate surgery is so specific while there are thousands of other issues that also need to be solved, this is unique because with the help of this surgery, people are able to eat, speak, and live a life. That is not to say their life will be perfect, but eating is necessary just to thrive.”

More information can be found at the Operation Smile website at http://www.operationsmile.org. If you have an interest in joining the UVa Chapter and having the chance to go on a mission like this, please contact Alisha at ag5zz@virginia.edu. Operation Smile is also co-hosting a bar night at the Biltmore with the Pre-dental society. Come by on the Thursday 28th of April from 5-8pm for $3 domestic drinks and $5 double rails.


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