A week at ISLC: Operation Smile Conference

by Gabriela Cruz

Operation Smile is a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Bill Magee and Kathy Magee with the purpose of providing free surgical care to kids with cleft palate conditions all around the world (specifically under-developed countries). One of the main ways which Operation Smile spreads awareness about its work and mission in “healing every child” is through organizing student programs. Operation Smile is always on the lookout for students interested in volunteering, leadership and donating to the cause since it only helps spread its mission statement farther.

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to attend Operation Smile’s International Student Leadership Conference which was hosted in Rome. Even though the conference lasted for a week, in that short amount of time I met students from all different parts around the world, learned more about the organization itself and it was a personal growing experience. For anyone interested in participating in ISLC in the future, I compiled a list of some of the most memorable and favorite moments of mine:

  1. Service Project: we made our own board games to help kids with cleft palate conditions learn how to read and speak
  2. Offsite excursion day: we spent a day in Rome visiting the Vatican, the fontana di trevi, and the colosseum
  3. Keynote Speakers: specifically the talk from Michelle Poler who talked about facing our fears
  4. Parties: we had a welcome party, international theme party, and a final party
  5. Until We Heal event: this event encompasses the theme which Operation Smile focuses on for a year. It was held in the center of Rome, and there were dancers, artists, speakers, a dj and great food of course.
  6. Global Challenge presentation: All the participants were split up by their regions and worked together to think of an idea of a fundraiser which would happen all around the world.
  7. Italian Cuisine cooking show: After the presentation we made our own dishes to try.
  8. Team Games/field day: All the participants were split up into teams named after an Operation Smile patient and worked together in a series of physical activities and mind games.
  9. Talent Night: Let’s just say that you will find a range of talents here unlike you’ve ever seen before.
  10. Just the experience of being able to live in a new country with new people who are interested in the same things you are.

Overall, the main takeaways I had from my time at ISLC is that it taught me that I have the power and responsibility to help others in need, even if I do so through smaller acts of kindness. The various Keynote speakers I listened to all showed me the importance of choosing the people I want to be in my life and the way I treat others does make a difference. I was able to see in action all the different kinds of people/jobs needed to run a successful non-profit like Operation smile ( including social media/advertising, doctors, business side, speakers, volunteers, program managers). Lastly I was inspired by all the other passionate and determined kids there from all around the world, who are active members in their communities/schools by  fundraising, starting clubs or as representatives. If anyone is interested in learning more about Operation Smile in general or possibly going to ISLC in the future don’t hesitate to ask me.