45 minutes, the length of a half in a football match, is all it takes to perform surgery to correct a cleft lip or cleft palate. During the Soweto Derby on the 30th of January, when Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs take to the field, Operation Smile South Africa (OSSA) will be launching a campaign to raise awareness about the availability of these surgeries, for free.

DSC02846The awareness campaign, Operation 45, will feature two children, 10-month-old Ofentse Sithole and eight-month-old Alexzander Coetzee. Through Ofentse and Alexander’s stories, OSSA will show the public what it means to be born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, and how these conditions affect not only them but their families.

Being so young, for Ofenste and Alexzander medical intervention comes at the perfect time.

Doctors agree that a cleft lip should ideally be repaired by the time a baby is three months old, and a cleft palate between 12 and 18 months. With limited access in developing countries like South Africa to the medical skills needed, early surgery is difficult to achieve. With its focus, since 1982, on identifying families like Ofentse’s and Alexzander’s where the children are still young enough, Operation Smile has dedicated itself to providing affected children with surgery so they can live happy, healthy lives. DSC01970

Ofenste, whose mother, Nomsa Sithole, has to walk with him for an hour to get to the nearest clinic, is a perfect example of the importance of this mission. She says, “Ofentse is a happy child, always laughing, who only occasionally cries. With OSSA’s help, the rest of the world can see the beautiful child I know him to be.”

Explaining the campaign, Tamlin Abrahams, Regional Director of OSSA, says: “Ultimately, the goal of Operation 45 is to destigmatise cleft lips and cleft palates. Soccer is a sport widely understood and appreciated by all, so it made sense to use it to make the operations relatable to the public and help individuals connect with the campaign. Operation 45 will expose how quick and affordable it can be to fix this condition, and highlight the difference that repairing a cleft lip or cleft palate can make for an individual. We want the public to become excited about the chance to change someone’s life. And whether it’s donating, organising a campaign in your office, or volunteering – non-medical professionals are also always needed to help – we want Operation 45 to show just how easy it is to get involved. Perhaps, most importantly, we want this campaign to publicise the availability of these surgeries through OSSA, and push people to register children in need of help.”

All the information about the initiative will be available on the Operation 45 mobisite (www.operation45.com) and will serve as the base for visitors to register children, sign up to volunteer and donate to Operation Smile.

“Ultimately, our work really does change lives for the better. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a parent’s smile when they see their child’s face after surgery, and realise what the surgery has meant for their child,” Abrahams concludes.

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