Roma Downey on her work with Operation Smile and why she does it.
I have been a spokesperson for a wonderful volunteer organization Operation Smile for almost 20 years. I have traveled with them on international medical missions to Asia, to Central America, and to the Middle East. The work they do is amazing as they transform the lives of thousands of children who have been born with facial deformities, primarily cleft lips and cleft pallets. These children suffer and are often ridiculed and shunned because of how they look and are often under nourished because they have difficulty eating. But because of the work of Operation Smile, in just 45 minutes and for around $250, these children’s lives can be changed forever.
My work as a fundraiser began in 1994 when I first met founding surgeon Dr. Bill Magee and his wife Kathy. We were shooting an episode of Touched By An Angel and the story was based on a child who had a cleft lip. The Magees were visiting our set in Utah and brought with them some before-and-after pictures of the extraordinary work they do. I was so incredibly moved by what I saw that I decided immediately that I would do whatever I could to help draw awareness to this most worthy cause.
Every child deserves the dignity of a smile, and because of the amazing volunteer medical teams of Operation Smile, free care is given to children who might never even be able to dream of a normal life.
As a mother myself, my heart has been moved to see when mothers arrive filled with desperation and anxiety yet dare to hope that their child will be one of the lucky ones selected.
I have seen them hand over their precious babies to a team of strangers hoping and praying that a miracle awaits; and I have seen the look of gratitude and love when they gaze on the newly restored faces of their children after the surgery. What a moment it is, filled with the promise of a new life.
I have also seen parents heartbroken as their child is turned away because we don’t have enough resources to help everyone. If we had more donations we could help more babies. I do my best to help raise awareness that brings more funds so these children get a chance at a normal life.
I believe when we work together, shoulder to shoulder, for the good of each other, we really can make a difference in the world.
Operation Smile: changing the world one smile at a time.
Roma Downey is an actress and producer and the Operation Smile Ambassador.