Celebrating its 40th anniversary, Operation Smile (OS), a non-profit medical services organization, is committed to providing high-quality healthcare for 1 million patients over the next decade. To help achieve this global milestone, Operation Smile Philippines (OSP) has forged a partnership with Philippines AirAsia Inc (AirAsia) to strengthen its capabilities and widen access to comprehensive cleft care and safe surgery across the Philippines through several initiatives, including in-flight donations on all AirAsia flights.
OSP’s latest collaboration with AirAsia is the collection of in-flight donations and the promotion of Operation Smile to their flights. With up to 90 full flights per day, AirAsia has not only helped sponsor treatments but also increase awareness on cleft.
Cleft is a congenital deformity that afflicts one in every 500 Filipinos. More than a physical disfigurement, cleft leads to issues with speech, nutrition, and oftentimes rejection and bullying from others. While a cleft surgery only takes 40 minutes to change someone’s life, Filipinos with cleft may have to traverse long distances to reach cleft care centers or due to lack of awareness on available treatments. Transport is also a major cost and challenge via air or cargo, for both patients and volunteers.
From March to August 2022, AirAsia Philippines raised over PHP 350,000 for cleft care and safe surgery. The airline will extend in-flight donations until the renewal of the partnership with Operation Smile in November. This is a testament to the commitment of AirAsia to support Filipinos with cleft.
Moreover, AirAsia has helped tremendously by ferrying children born with cleft lip and palate from far-flung areas. As of August, AirAsia has sponsored 20 roundtrip flights for patient transport to treatment sites and back. This also includes flights for volunteers to reach Cleft Care Centers.
Last December, AirAsia helped fly a child born with cleft named Rhean Mata together with her mother, Tiffany, from Bacolod to receive cleft lip surgery to OSP’s Comprehensive Cleft Care Center in Pampanga. Tiffany had initially given up on getting Rhean treated due to the lack of funds.
Thankfully, after finding OSP on Facebook, Tiffany was able to reach out to OSP for a free evaluation and surgery. After the pair had been connected to OSP, AirAsia quickly booked their flights, provided assistance before turning them over to OSP, and brought them back home after the operation. Rhean now has had her cleft lip repaired successfully and will soon have a second surgery to fix her cleft palate.
Rhean’s story is a testament that a normal life for a child with cleft is possible with the support of organizations that helped make a difference. Not only do OSP and AirAsia work together to increase access to cleft care, but the partnership also provided typhoon relief initiatives in affected areas.
Following the devastation left behind by Super Typhoon Rai in the Visayas and Mindanao, AirAsia was quick to fly in for assistance. OSP and AirAsia worked together for its project called “alwaysREDy to go the extra mile for a smile”, where the airline chartered mercy flights for medical experts to offer care and aided in the distribution of relief goods to affected areas across the country.
“Our alwaysREDy: Anytime, Anywhere CSSR campaign at AirAsia Philippines has one main goal: create opportunities where the less fortunate can win with AirAsia as one. Our partnership with Operation Smile attests to this. We consider it a great privilege to be working with this globally renowned organization. We shall continue to collaborate with Operation Smile in the transport and financial support of our young kababayans who dream of having a brand-new smile that they can share to the world,” said AirAsia Philippines Spokesperson and Head of Communications and Public Affairs Steve Dailisan.
“We are grateful for partners such as AirAsia who lend their support and spirit of bayanihan to Filipinos with cleft, especially in underserved communities. With the help of partners, Operation Smile is closer to reaching its goal of increasing access to innovative healthcare delivery and achieving our goal of providing 1 million patients with safer care,” said Emiliano Romano, Executive Director of OSP.
As the collaboration with government agencies and private businesses continue, Operation Smile hopes to further enhance the capacities of local health units so that they can provide lasting, holistic, and high-quality cleft care.