cleft palate

What if this was your child?

Born with a cleft lip or palate … and you had no medical aid or money in the bank to pay hospital and doctors’ bills? Wouldn’t you want someone to help?

Be that ‘someone’!

From as little as R550 you can sponsor life-changing surgery – and give a child like this a beautiful new smile!

third most common birth defect

Every 3 minutes ..

… a child is born somewhere in the world with a cleft condition. In first world countries, corrective surgery is usually done within the first 18 months of life. But in Southern Africa, where safe surgery is not freely available or accessible to many, a child may have to wait years for the chance to live a normal life.

What happens if cleft conditions are left untreated?

hunger and thirst
Babies born with cleft may be unable to feed properly, and may suffer from malnutrition and thirst. The risk of death is nine times higher for these children.

speech difficulties
Speech difficulties are common among children born with cleft conditions. They may struggle to make themselves understood, and need speech therapy after surgery.

dental problems
Teeth may grow at an angle, adding to the disfigurement and making it difficult for the child to chew properly. Following surgery, the child may need orthodontistry to ensure teeth are correctly aligned.

low self esteem
In many cultures children born with cleft conditions – and their families – are shunned. Or the child may be mocked and teased for being so ‘ugly’. No wonder they suffer from low self-esteem, bullying and social isolation.

Change despair to hope

A child’s cleft lip or cleft palate can be repaired for as little as R5500 and in as few as 45 minutes.

You don’t have to act as if you care

You just have to care enough to act

In 1982, Dr William (Bill) Magee, a plastic surgeon, and his wife Kathy, a nurse and clinical social worker, travelled to the Philippines with a group of medical volunteers to repair children’s cleft lips and cleft palates.

What they found was overwhelming. Over 300 families arrived, hoping their children would receive surgery. But the team could only treat 40 children.

“People pushed their babies at us,” recalls Kathy. “They tugged at our sleeves with tears in their eyes and begged us to help their children.”

As they were leaving, the Magees promised they would return to help more children – and Operation Smile was born.

Today, Operation Smile is an international medical charity with a network of medical volunteers from more than 80 countries, dedicated to helping children born with cleft palate and other facial abnormalities.

cleft palate surgery

Share our vision

We dream of a world where no child suffers from lack of access to safe surgery. As long as there are children in the world who need our help, we’ll do whatever it takes to give them the quality care they deserve.

And we’re inviting you to be part of this dream, by volunteering, sponsoring surgeries, fundraising for us and other options.

How your support helps

News & Stories

After 48 Years, A New Future

After 48 Years, A New Future

Domingos has an indomitable spirit with a physique to match: calloused hands, muscled arms and shoulders that look like they could carry the weight of the world. In a sense, they have. Domingos carried the weight of living with an untreated cleft lip for 48 years....

read more
Braving the World Together

Braving the World Together

Noemia and her mother, Bendita. Photo: Zeke du Plessis. Children like Noemia possess a special form of bravery. It’s a courage that can often be concealed by shyness and vulnerability. This courage endures teasing and mockery with a sense of dignity that many struggle...

read more
A Life-Changing Journey for Two Sisters

A Life-Changing Journey for Two Sisters

When we first met Vaviroa and Nambina on our medical mission to Tamatave, Madagascar, the six- and two-year-old sisters shyly hid behind their parents and barely said a word. Years of bullying taught these young girls that the world didn’t want to see their smiles....

read more

Our global family


With more than 6,000 active medical volunteers from all around the world, Operation Smile is one of the world’s largest volunteer-based nonprofit organisations. Our supporters are people from all walks of life, who believe that anyone born with a cleft condition deserves safe, effective, and timely surgery and care.

Operation Smile footprint