Malibu High students learn leadership skills and how to make a difference through Operation Smile.
By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times
Last week, six Malibu High School students took a step toward becoming philanthropic leaders of tomorrow by attending the International Student Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. The event has been hosted for the past 20 years by Operation Smile, the nonprofit organization that travels to needy countries and performs operations—free of charge—to repair facial deformities on thousands of children who might otherwise spend their entire lives hidden away from the rest of the world.
The Malibu High students—Camille Wormser, Britta Mosser, Skylar Steinberg, Elena Clarfield, Taylor Colby and Eloise Massett—are members of the MHS Operation Smile Club and were invited to attend the leadership conference as the next generation to whom the torch of philanthropy will be passed.
Dr. Bill and Kathy Magee founded Operation Smile 30 years ago in response to a “life-changing” experience in the Philippines, Kathy Magee said. He was a pediatric plastic surgeon and she was a pediatric nurse when they agreed to accompany some friends to the South Pacific nation with the goal of helping 40 extremely poor children who had been born with cleft palates.
“We saw 250 children turned away from our field camp,” Magee said last week in a telephone interview. “It broke our hearts. These children usually spend their lives living in huts, shunned by society. This surgery was the only hope for their future.”
When the Magees learned that the group did not have plans to return to the field camp, in a place called Naga City, they decided to step in. They organized like-minded friends, scrounged donations of supplies and even secured a check from television evangelist Pat Robertson’s “The 700 Club” to fund the trip before heading back to the Philippines.
Their generosity was received with gratitude and overwhelming need for more help.
“It just snowballed on us,” Magee said. “We started getting requests from Kenya and Southeast Asia. We realized pretty quickly that this would only continue to work if we developed on-the-ground partnerships and started training local resources.”
The logistics are daunting and rely heavily on volunteer help. Operation Smile shows up after plenty of advance community organizing, sets up a field hospital, performs hundreds of surgeries over the course of a week, then trains families and local hospitals on how to care for the patients.
But if Operation Smile were to continue to expand, it would require training local teams to create their own fundraising apparatus, as well as organizing a source for ongoing volunteers. The Operation Smile Club was born.
“Our friend Danny Rosen started the clubs 27 years ago and they’ve spread to high schools all over the country and even universities,” Magee said. “High school kids think, ‘I’m only one person. What can I do?’ Operation Smile clubs take them on missions around the world and these kids come back changed. They see the poverty and say, OK, I can do this much. With a team, I can make a difference.”
Operation Smile’s International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) aims to prepare those young people for just such a mission. Five hundred youngsters from more than 20 countries assembled in our nation’s capital last week to meet new friends, develop team-building skills and learn effective volunteer organizing. In doing so, Magee said, they learn to live the ISLC’s credo to “Ignite Change!”
Taylor Colby will be a senior at Malibu High in the fall. She is a member of the Operation Smile Club and recently completed training for her first mission trip to the Philippines in November.
“I will help educate parents and their children on how to care for themselves after the surgery,” Colby said. “Hydration therapy, good oral hygiene, good nutrition—it’s all a part of making sure that this surgery is a success.”
Colby explained how one of her jobs is to teach burn prevention, since many patients sustain facial burns because they do so much cooking over open fires. She will give presentations through interactive wordplay and posters, usually aided by a translator. She said that the Operation Smile Club has inspired her to get involved and do something.
“In Malibu, we don’t see a lot of poverty or people really struggling,” Colby said. “I know my first mission will take me out of that. At the conference, I’m meeting people I would never have met before and we’re beginning to see how we can make a difference.”
Eloise Massett was first drawn into the Operation Smile Club at MHS through her older sister. She said she only just began to understand the impact the organization was making on the world.
“Upon seeing my sister and others… after they returned from their missions, I became really motivated to go on one myself,” Massett wrote from the conference. “Everyone comes back a changed person, and I really look forward to the day I see the smile on a child’s face after surgery.”
Operation Smile is preparing its core mission to continue.
“Through the clubs, we’ve trained kids who go on to work for PR firms or fundraising groups or become surgeons who operate on missions,” Magee said. “After 30 years, we’re getting ready to pass the baton to a new generation of Operation Smile volunteers. Because where else do you get the chance to really change a kid’s life?”
To learn more about Operation Smile, go to: www.operationsmile.org.
Medlife Peru 2016