A Smile is a Universal Right: Operation Smile

Harvey Ball, a commercial artist from Worcester, Massachusetts, was made famous by his invention of the smiley face in 1963. The iconic smiley was created in a mere ten minutes for a State Mutual Life Assurance Company campaign to raise moral.


Today, Oct. 6, thousands will celebrate World Smile Day by living their motto,  “Do an act of kindness. Help one person smile!”


When Ball worried about the message of his original design being forgotten he declared the first Friday in October each year to be World Smile Day. He wanted the unbiased, all encompassing symbol to remain a beacon for good will because “The smiley face knows no politics, no geography and no religion.”


The first World Smile Day was held in 1999 and grows each year, after starting in Ball’s hometown of Worcester in an attempt to celebrate peace and happiness.


Sadly, Ball passed in 2001, and the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation was organized  in his honor to continue the tradition.


The international nonprofit works to provide free surgery for those with cleft lips and palates in developing countries. On these medical missions, a team of Anesthesiologists, nurses, plastic surgeons, speech pathologists and other volunteers set up a clinic for five days. In those few days, countless surgeries change lives.


Anyone can join  the campaign, as smiles reach around the globe. Locally, the University of Redlands has a partnership working to aid those with cleft lips or palates. University of Redlands senior, Kiersten Langerud traveled to Paraguay on an Operation Smile medical mission, where she helped with 120 surgeries in five days. The cleft lip surgery takes approximately forty five minutes and the cleft palate is about two hours.


“It’s like a marathon of surgery,” Langerud said.


While on this medical mission, Langerud met thirty-two year old Ramone, a mentally disabled man with a cleft lip and cleft palate.


“He barely spoke because he was embarrassed of what he sounded like,” Langerud said. “In a lot of places, having a physical disability can have a lot of social implications.”


“In a lot of cultures they think that it’s something that they did,” Langerud continued. “Or if they are religious they think, ‘God is out to get me’ or a family member did something bad and this is how we’re being punished for it.”


Ramone was ostracized because he was not allowed to go to school and was frequently kept inside. His mother was ashamed of him because she didn’t understand the conditions. Ramone was also extremely thin due to a lack of nutrition, as chewing and swallowing with a cleft palate is not impossible, but incredibly uncomfortable, which makes receiving proper nutrition especially challenging.


Many children whose clefts go untreated have similar experiences to Ramone. Langerud explained that the surgery, “enables them to go to school and not get bullied.” After the operation, she continued, “they’re a completely different person. They can smile and they don’t have a gap and they can show their teeth. They’re not used to looking in the mirror and being happy with what they see because they don’t look like their friends or siblings, so it’s hard for them to see past that.”


They primarily give surgery to kids because they have an easier recovery,” she continue. “The social implications are also more at stake when you’re younger.”


Languard passionately explained the extent of how these children’s lives are changed. “Some of these kids have never been smiled at before. By smiling and allowing them into your world makes the biggest difference because that has never happened before.”


Smiling is at the basis for many human connections.


“Something as simple as smiling at someone can change their day,” Langerud said.


Every three minutes a child is born with a cleft, facing the same struggles as Ramone. To help combat this Operation Smile at the University of Redlands has set a goal. This semester, the university’s goal is to raise at least enough money for one smile, which equates to about $250.


To help raise money for smiles, the club holds events to make cards, hospital gowns, sock puppets for speech therapists,and smile bag construction, a goody bag for after surgery. These efforts are sent to their medical mission sites.


Celebrating World Smile Day is as easy as doing an act of kindness, or getting directly involved in Operation Smile. Help celebrate the holiday by making someone smile today, as the Operation Smile slogan goes, “A smile is a universal right.”