Medical volunteers transform lives and transfer skills in Mpumalanga

Operation Smile South Africa in partnership with the Mpumalanga Department of Health, MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, and a dedicated team of medical volunteers from various regions of South Africa, recently completed a transformative surgical program at Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mbombela. Their goal: to help 30 children and young adults with cleft lips and palates, while also strengthening the local healthcare system.



Globally, cleft conditions are among the most common birth defects, posing serious health and psychological challenges when left untreated. Fiola Lujabe, Coordinator of Programme Operations for Operation Smile, underscores the urgency of timely intervention: “The longer a child born with a cleft must await surgery, the more severe their potential health, developmental, and psychological complications become. The encouraging news is that cleft conditions can often be surgically rectified in a remarkably brief 45-minute procedure performed by a proficient medical team.”

Operation Smile South Africa has been a driving force in the delivery of comprehensive cleft care since 2006, working in provinces where early access to cleft care is severely limited for patients relying on the public health system. This year they will perform life-altering surgeries during weekend surgical programmes in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape. Volunteer medical professionals, including plastic and reconstructive surgeons, anaesthesiologists, paediatricians, nurses, dentists, and therapists, work alongside local staff to deliver compassionate care to patients and their families, free of charge.

Beyond these essential surgical and dental interventions, Operation Smile prioritises the transfer of knowledge and skills to local health professionals, thus elevating the standard of medical competence in cleft care and surgery within the region.


“At Operation Smile we seek to empower local healthcare providers so that they can in turn care for their communities. We provide training opportunities on each surgical programme and host education workshops to facilitate the transfer of skills and knowledge. We also invest in training Community Healthcare Workers in cleft identification and pathways to care and provide basic life support training and paediatric advanced life support training for hospital staff and volunteers,” says Sarah Scarth, Executive Director of Operation Smile South Africa.

Operation Smile medical and non-medical volunteers donate their time, skills and expertise to treat patients on our short-term surgical programmes and to serve as educators to support health system strengthening. Operation Smile has a global network of more than 5 000 active volunteers, 126 of whom are from South Africa.

Long-standing Operation Smile volunteers and best friends, Galima Mobara and Togieda Toffie have attended multiple surgical programmes and both also volunteer for Gift of the Givers. Togieda is a theatre nurse at Life Healthcare Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town and joined Operation Smile in 2008 as an Operating Room Nurse. She has been on more than 25 surgical programs globally. “It’s that first expression on that patient’s face when they look in the mirror immediately after the operation. That look of total disbelief followed by tears, raising their hands in gratitude, that’s what makes you humble and honoured to have been part of that patient’s journey,” she says.



“Few experiences are as profoundly impactful as being able to provide life-altering surgery to people in need.”says Naeema Alexander, from MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet CSI Implementation. “We are thrilled to join forces with Operation Smile, leveraging the unwavering support of our remarkable customers and the selfless contributions of our partners, to extend safe surgical interventions to these children and their families. Moreover, this marks our fourth sponsored surgical program as we strive to elevate medical proficiency across the region.”

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