Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Volunteer for a Medical Mission with Your Teenager

Zack in Panama playing soccer with Jorge during the pre-op screeing day
One of the great joys of my life was going on a medical mission with my son Zack to Panama last year with my husband and my friend Kathy Van Zeeland.  I receive many inquiries from parents asking how they can go on a mission with their teenage kids.  So here is the info from Operation Smile below.  

All of the incredible volunteers on our medical mission to Panama
Operation Smile, headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is an international children’s medical charity with a presence in more than 60 countries, whose network of more than 5,400 medical volunteers from over 80 countries is dedicated to helping improve the health and lives of children. Since its founding in 1982, Operation Smile has provided more than 200,000 free surgeries for children and young adults born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities. To build long-term self-sufficiency in resource poor environments, Operation Smile trains doctors and local medical professionals in its partner countries so they are empowered to treat their local communities. Operation Smile also donates medical equipment, supplies and provides year-round medical treatment through its worldwide centers.

Operation Smile has hundreds of active Student Clubs and Associations in the United States and around the world. These Student Clubs and Associations consist of elementary, middle, high school and university students. Our foundation of Student Programs is Education, Leadership, Service and Awareness. The Student Clubs raise awareness and funds for Operation Smile.

If your school does not have a club, we encourage you to consider starting one. To directly access documents related to starting a club go to Club Startup. However, if you need additional information or have questions, do not hesitate to contact us at Do not worry if you are part of an existing club and want to fundraise or raise awareness for us! You can register your existing club with us as well.
Once you get your club started, sign up your club through our online registration at

Here is how you can help today!!!
1. Start a Club at your school.
2. Do a service project, collection drive, or fundraiser. Find ideas and resources on our startup page!
3. Join the Operation Smile Student Programs group on Facebook.
4. Subscribe to the Operation Smile channel on YouTube
5. Encourage your friends to do the same!

International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC):
Each summer, Operation Smile holds an international student conference for high school students (at least 15 years old or a rising sophomore) as well as university students. At the conference participants are given opportunities to learn lessons of leadership from those who lead. Through these experiences, Operation Smile empowers students to reach their goals, achieve dreams, and change lives. The 2013 ISLC came back home to celebrate the 30th anniversary where it began in Norfolk, Virginia at Old Dominion University. Over 450 participants from 24 countries, including the United States, attended. The 23nd annual International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) 2014 will be in Limerick, Ireland. More information will be available on our website beginning Fall 2013 (

Mission Opportunities:
We take two high school students on each international medical mission to work with the mission team. At the mission site, students teach patients and their guardians basic health such as dental hygiene, burn care and prevention, nutrition, hand washing, and oral re-hydration therapy. The students and their sponsor also travel to schools and orphanages in the surrounding areas to give healthcare presentations and share their Operation Smile involvement. These students are selected due to their involvement and participation in their Operation Smile Student Association and other community service areas, and they must have attended an International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC). To be considered for acceptance into the Mission Training Workshop (MTW) students must complete an application that includes writing an essay, creating a video, and submitting two letters of recommendation. The workshops are held twice a year; once in January in Norfolk, Virginia and once each summer, prior to the ISLC. Applications are available here. This opportunity is only available to high school students.

University Programs:
Operation Smile has a few university programs this year, which you can find details on at University Programs. The U-Voice program allows college students to join our missions as journalists and bloggers.
The ISLC is one of the major events planned by Operation Smile Student Programs. However, Operation Smile students are making a difference in their regions every day. Student leaders are available within certain regions to help you start make a difference!
We have also developed a fantastic new online tool. I encourage you to go to our homepage and click on One Smile to start a Smile Campaign, or go to One Smile. It’s easy to use, and allows you to run your own campaign and watch your efforts grow as you work to change a life. You can send e-cards, post events, and write messages all from your very own page! Check it out today!

Thank you for your willingness to give. You are who makes our mission move forward.

Mother with her son after surgery and her Luke bear #smile

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