News: Operation Smile brings hope to Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao children
MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – For thousands of children in southern Mindanao with cleft lip or cleft palate deformities, life can be a struggle. In addition to the dental, nasal, and speech problems that may develop from their condition, these children may have little hope of attending school or enjoying a normal life.
Although cleft lip and cleft palate surgery is common in urban areas where access to medical facilities exists, it is an expensive procedure and uncommon opportunity for families living in remote areas. The possibility of non-governmental organizations volunteering their services in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao is complicated by the area’s reputation for instability and difficult access to remote areas.
For this reason, the cooperative effort between the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, Knightsbridge International, ARMM Department of Health, and ARMM Department of Social Welfare and Development to bring a team of plastic surgeons from Operation Smile to Maguindanao and give nearly 100 patients this life-altering surgery free of charge is unprecedented.
From June 7-11, more than 100 families arrived, primarily by 6th Infantry Division trucks, and crowded the usually serene lawn on Camp Siongco Hospital transforming it into a triage and in-processing center for Operation Smile.
Because of ongoing construction of a new hospital facility, Col. Eric De Leon, AFP commanding officer of the Camp Siongco Hospital, explained that the base had no waiting room, recovery room, or operating room for the doctors to work in. But he remained undaunted in his pursuit to support Operation Smile. With a little ingenuity and hard work by combined AFP and U.S. forces, a bare room was converted into the surgical area, and two barracks buildings were cleared out to make room for overnight and recovering patients. AFP nurses helped with the prescreening of patients, and AFP cooks provided hundreds of meals for their guests.
“In line with the Bayanihan spirit, AFP’s Internal Peace and Security Plan, we are assisting the local government units and NGOs to provide medical services to the less fortunate in the areas of Maguindanao,” said De Leon. “This will make a big impact on the community, because when the families get back to their respective municipalities, they could tell their neighbors how effective the AFP is.”
Knightsbridge International, a Philippine-based NGO, procured the necessary medical equipment and supplies, and RN HEALS provided volunteer nurses to stay in the recovery wards overnight with patients.
“We’ve always talked about it, but we’ve hardly touched the ARMM areas,” explained Dr. Lawrence Loh, team leader for the incipient Operation Smile mission in Cotabato. “People are afraid to come into the ARMM area, they see it as a dangerous place. But we see a great need to take care of these kids. So many of them were registered and screened. We definitely have to come back.”
Operation Smile, a U.S. NGO that has been in service since 1982, arrived in Maguindanao June 7. After a slow start (only 7 patients on the first day), and with the help of local nurses and nursing students, the pace quickly increased on the last day. Plastic surgeons and staff worked into the night to perform a total of 96 surgeries.
“A lot of people say this is a war-torn area, but the doctors and nurses from Operation Smile came here with courage and scalpels. I am so glad that I got to participate here,” said Jade Demao, a newly certified nurse, who said she will remember this rewarding mission as her first real job.
“You can see the results after the surgery,” added De Leon. “A happy face and a happy family going back home, which leads to a better community.”
This work, Operation Smile brings hope to Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao children, by ENS Cassandra Thompson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.