Women Brighting Futures and Empower Lasting Change

Courageously leaving the comfort and familiarity of their local communities, more than 100 patients and their families traveled countless miles to arrive in Marrakesh, Morocco, seeking cleft care.

families waiting for health screening in Morocco

Taking place two years after Operation Smile Morocco’s final surgical programme before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country and around the world, the second Women in Medicine programme and its all-female team of volunteers welcomed these families with a promise of providing high-quality surgery to as many as possible.

Similarly to the Women in Medicine: Inspiring a Generation programme back in March 2020, this programme celebrated International Women’s Day by bringing together a volunteer team comprised entirely of women. These medical professionals from all around the world donate their passion, time and skills, serving pivotal roles in delivering surgical and multidisciplinary cleft care.

More than 80 women from over 15 countries including Guatemala, Morocco, Peru, Brazil, Sweden, the UK, Norway and many others joined together to form one team ready to provide expert-level cleft care to children who — without it — may never have been given the brighter and healthier futures they deserve.

For many volunteers, this was their first women’s mission. But for Moroccan surgeon Dr. Misk Meziane, who attended the March 2020 program, she not only left an impact on the lives she changed through surgery, but also through sharing experiences, mentorship and skills with the future surgeons of the world.

“You have to love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, you are not giving the best of you,” Misk said. “Second important thing is to think about the patient. If it was someone in your family there, you have to keep that in mind, and you have to do the best for this patient.”

Surgical and dental residents felt empowered as they participated in mentorship and training opportunities where certified medical professionals like Dr. Ase Sivertsen of Norway shared skills and techniques during interactive cleft surgery simulations and oral health workshops.

By participating in these training opportunities, dental students learned knowledge about life-saving pre-surgical dental care while surgical residents gained skills through practicing techniques unique to performing cleft surgery.

Alongside other certified female medical professionals, cleft surgeon Dr. Wafaa Mradmi of Morocco and dentist Dr. Vilma Arteaga of Guatemala led the interactive surgical and dental workshops.

Vilma and Wafaa both volunteered in the training and education components during the first women’s mission. As they witnessed the continuation of this global educational exchange, they once again felt like they were a part of something greater than themselves. From increasing the local capacity of local communities around the world to improving the surgical outcomes for patients, the women who participated in the workshops left the programme eager and ready to utilise their newfound knowledge and skills.

“I’ve had a lot of experience of mentoring residents, whether in my country or from abroad. When you train them, it’s not just giving them the medical knowledge, but also providing them with the ability to be compassionate,” Wafaa said. “You have to have some spirit, soul and heart to be with these patients and to know that their families will always be there behind them, and you have to treat, not only the patient, but also the family.” 

Our female-led team of surgeons, anaesthesiologists, nurses, dentists and more became a fierce and purposeful force providing 100 patients like 9-month-old Yasser with comprehensive health screenings.

Although his mom, Siham, received a prenatal ultrasound, Yasser’s cleft lip went undetected. So, the first time Siham saw her newborn son was also the first time she had ever seen another person with a cleft condition.

Gazing down at her son, Siham’s shock and worry nearly overwhelmed her. But with Operation Smile Morocco’s well-known existence across the country, doctors at the hospital where Yasser was born spoke highly of the organisation, knowing that a solution for his cleft condition was possible. After learning that there was an upcoming surgical programme in Marrakech, Siham and Yasser journeyed from Tangier. It took them six hour by bus to reach Marrakech.

For many of the patients like Yasser who arrived, this programme was their first attempt at receiving the life-changing surgery that proved so elusive while withstanding the challenges amid the last two years.

As stewards of Operation Smile’s mission to improve health and dignity through access to safe surgery, the women who served on this programme changed the lives and futures of 70 families.

As one of the 70 patients who received life-transforming care, 3-year-old Chaoui departed from the women’s mission with a brighter and healthier future ahead of her.
For many patients like Chaoui, surgery is the first milestone along their journey with Operation Smile Morocco. Additional orthognathic surgery, speech therapy, psychosocial care and more are a few of the ongoing comprehensive services the local team delivers at their multiple care centers across the country.

“I really try to do as much speech therapy and train the parents to do the therapy and encourage them so that their child can go to school or go back to school,” said volunteer speech therapist Candace Myers of Canada.

“I often tell the parents, ‘With quite a bit of work, they can improve their speech, and then they can be a doctor, a surgeon, a nurse, a teacher. Your child can do anything.’”

Training the next generation

Operation Smile women in medicine programme is part of our mission to build health care resilience in the countries we work

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. Once again, we’re providing surgery and in-person care while taking stringent measures to keep our patients, their families and our volunteers safe. Hope is on the horizon. And we remain focused on what cleft care makes possible for children, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live with confidence.