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Alliance for Smiles is a nonprofit organization committed to creating new smiles for children suffering from untreated cleft lip and cleft palate anomalies. Our dedicated teams of volunteers provide comprehensive treatment including free reconstructive surgery for these often neglected children in underserved areas of the world.
Alliance for Smiles (AfS) was founded in October of 2004 by five members of the Rotary Club of San Francisco who had been involved for ten years previously with cleft lip and palate reconstructive surgery. The desire on the part of the Founders was to create a two tiered program that not only send medical teams to sites to perform free reconstructive surgery but to also create Treatment Centers where the protocol of cleft treatment found in Centers in the United States could be replicated.
In order to facilitate both dreams, Alliance for Smiles recruited Dr. Karin Vargervik, Director of the Cleft Lip and Palate Treatment Center at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco, to head the Treatment Center Program and Dr. Wallace Chang, M.D. of the University of Seattle to head the Medical Committee.
AfS decided to choose China as the first country to be approached with this dual concept. Several factors contributed to this choice: the need for treatment (one in 350 children being born annually with the cleft anomaly), pre-existing relationships with the China Population Welfare Foundation and the State Family Planning Commission to facilitate logistics, and an infra-structure that could be used to set up Treatment Centers. There was also an intense interest by the Chinese to learn about Treatment Centers and establish them at sites.
The results of the dual vision is that today, Alliance for Smiles has completed 18 medical missions to China with over 1,800 children receiving corrective surgery. The first Treatment Center was dedicated in Jiujiang China in April of 2007 and is functioning with over 100 children enrolled. Alliance for Smiles subsidized the training of the leader of the Center by inviting him to the United States and UCSF for a period of four months, during which time he learned the team approach which includes the services of not only the surgeon but also speech pathologists, dentists, orthodontists and psychologists. It continues to subsidize treatment of patients and pay for patient/parent travel costs to the Center. In November of 2009, a second treatment center was dedicated in Wenzhou, China with plans to serve many more children and families.
During 2009, five medical missions took place, three to China and one to Bangladesh and one to The Philippines. From two missions in 2005, Alliance for Smiles has grown quickly. The medical teams are comprised of over 35 medical and non-medical volunteers. Typically there are four plastic surgeons, five anesthesiologists, a head nurse, four operating room nurses, two pediatricians, a dentist, a dental hygienist, and approximately 12 non medical volunteers including Mission Director, Medical Photographers, Medical Records Transcribers, Quartermaster, Sterilizer, and Translators. AfS subsidizes the airfare for the medical professionals. Non-medical volunteers subsidize their own travel expenses. AfS pays for the housing of the entire team on site.
The current budget for fiscal 2009 (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010) is $800,000. However, when calculating the value of the organization, the value of the donated time of the medical volunteers makes AfS an organization with a value of $5 million.
The future of AfS holds great potential. Although concentrating its efforts for the first four years in China, it is expanding efforts to other countries. The Treatment Centers concept is expanding in China with several hospitals as potential centers. The original concept of providing two types of services, one immediate and the other long term, remains as the basic philosophical tenet of AfS. With continued support from generous individuals, foundations, businesses, and groups such as Rotary, AfS looks forward to expanding and realizing its dream of establishing comprehensive treatment for cleft children in developing countries.
- Shelly Dougherty
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