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Every small stride toward change holds the power to yield profound impacts in the lives of many children.

Every child, regardless of their background, deserves the fundamental right to access safe surgical care. This has been a challenge, however, faced by local communities in the Philippines. Thus, when I learned that Operation Smile’s first surgical program in 1982 was in the Philippines, I was greatly inspired to contribute towards creating smiles for children with cleft lip and cleft palate in my local Filipino community.

Moving to Canada made me feel distant from my roots, but my involvement with Operation Smile provided a bridge back to my community. I resolved to become a staunch advocate of this cause and was determined to achieve my goal of raising awareness on the rise of children born with cleft lip and cleft palate and the fundamental right these children have to access safe surgical care.

Student stands in front of a table where she is selling chocolates and roses.
Abigail and the student club at University of British Columbia host a Valentine’s Day fundraiser.

Throughout these last few years, I am grateful to lead the club at the University of British Columbia as its President. The team and I had the opportunity to organize multiple fundraisers such as track events called Walk for Smiles, paint nights, Valentine’s Day roses and chocolate fundraisers, Krispy Kreme fundraisers, milk tea and hot chocolate fundraisers, and many, many more.

Not only do we organize fundraisers to help fund children in need of cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries, but we also host one of our most attended events every year: Pathways to Healthcare, which is a speaker and networking night where participants not only from UBC, but also from the Vancouver community learn more about Operation Smile’s mission and vision through the lens of volunteers and also discover different professional careers that are involved in providing comprehensive care during Operation Smile’s surgical programs, such as medical surgery, dentistry, and speech therapy.

Students standing together, posing for the photo
UBC Operation Smile Club members

Despite the distance from my home, the impact of supporting my community through Operation Smile Canada has been significant. By engaging with people of all ages and backgrounds, I have expanded awareness about cleft conditions and Operation Smile’s humanitarian efforts, especially in helping children in the Philippines.

The growth of the Operation Smile community in Vancouver has empowered me, affirming that my contributions, no matter the distance, have made a positive difference in the lives of children with cleft conditions. Operating on small steps, I am proud of the impact we have collectively made in bringing new smiles to children in need.

Author Bio: Abigail Netanya Ngan is a fourth-year student at the University of British Columbia pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology, Immunology, and Public Health. Volunteering alongside Operation Smile for the last four years as its Club President and Representative, she is eager to continue to support Operation Smile’s mission and vision in the many years to come.

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