It’s my birthday week and to celebrate I am highlighting one of my all-time favorite charities, Operation Smile. This incredible organization is near and dear to my heart. For six years I had the privilege of working as the Development Director for the Southern California chapter of Operation Smile. I was afforded the opportunity to travel with their team of volunteers to numerous countries including India, Thailand, Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras.

Operation Smile provides life changing surgery for children and adults born with cleft lips and palates in developing countries. Without this surgery many of these children would not grow to adulthood as they will suffer from malnutrition and worse. Sadly the social stigma placed upon a child with a facial deformity can cause them to suffer immensely.

A child’s cleft lip or palate can be repaired for as little as $240 and in as few as 45 minutes! Can you imagine!? Such a small thing and yet their lives are forever transformed.

I will never forget meeting Angel, a young man from a remote village of Nicaragua. At age 16 he traveled by himself, much of the way by foot, over a period of days to reach the hospital clinic in Managua that our team was operating at. Born with a facial deformity he was essentially an outcast amongst his own people, performing the most undesirable chores within his small village and barely scraping by a living. Yet Angel was determined to make his life better. When he heard about Operation Smile’s mission to his country he set out on foot, determined to change his life.

When we met Angel we were touched by his story. What stood out to me more than anything was that he admitted that he had never been kissed. Not even by his own mother! Even now I can’t control the tears that spill down my cheeks as I write this and remember with compassion what this young man’s life must have been like up to that point. Angel bravely agreed to surgery under local anesthetic which would allow him to have a quick recovery and be back on the road home the same day.

Local government officials visited the hospital that day and met Angel. They were so impressed with this young man’s determination that they arranged transportation for Angel along with a few of our team members to fly back to his remote village in an old military helicopter. I wasn’t a part of the group in the helicopter but a friend related the experience. He described Angel’s inquisitive and bright demeanor as they speedily covered the ground that had taken Angel days to traverse. Truly his bravery knew no limits.

As they approached the remote village the only place to land was in a clearing in the center of the village. The community ran for shelter within their homes, the rotor wash throwing up dust. Even before the whir of the rotors had slowed and the dust dissipated Angel stepped from the helicopter. Curious villagers began to peak their heads out and then as one they rushed towards the helicopter.

Here stood their son, brother, neighbor, completely transformed. Tears were shed, hugs were given all around and Angel, for the first time, was kissed.

This story and so many like it is repeated in so many ways over and over again with each mission trip taken by Operation Smile. Truly they are changing lives one smile at a time.

As a photographer it is my honor to be able to capture the beautiful smiles of my client’s precious children. My work with Operation Smile has helped me to appreciate just how precious those smiles are.

If you would like to join me this week in supporting this wonderful cause you can contribute easily on Facebook through this fundraiser or head over to Operation Smile’s website and donate directly there.

A huge thank you to my wonderful clients and your continual support for our community and fabulous non-profits that do so much good. As always if you would like more information on fine art photography sessions with Lindsay Walden Photography you can contact us here.