Surgical Programme

Please help us keep a promise we made to Ntlelo’s mom


Right now our volunteer surgical team is getting ready to return to the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha … to bring life-changing surgery to children and adults with cleft conditions.


Cycle for Smiles

Cycle for Smiles 2023


It takes as little as 45 minutes to transform the life of a child with a cleft.

Sign up to cycle 450km over 45 days and raise funds from family and friends for Operation Smile. Or come up with your own Cycle for Smiles challenge.

Fundraise for Smiles


The epic adventures featured in this video are truly inspirational. But you don’t have to go that far to raise funds for Operation Smile.

Dream up your own challenge … run a marathon … participate in a cycle or Iron Man event … host a fundraising dinner or cake sale … or use a milestone birthday to raise funds towards life-changing surgery for children born with cleft conditions.

Fundraise for Operation Smile – and help give a child born with cleft lip or cleft palate the gift of a brand new smile.

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 always freely available or accessible, a child may have to wait years for the chance to live a normal life.

What happens if cleft conditions are left untreated?

Difficulty in eating and drinking
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.

Social isolation
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

Depending on the severity, cleft conditions can be repaired in just 45 minutes. Your donation makes new smiles possible.

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 surgery
How your support helps

News & Stories

Endurance athletes raise more than R1m for Operation Smile

Endurance athletes raise more than R1m for Operation Smile

  Dan Meyer’s bicycle was playing up, and steadily getting worse. If he’d been at home in Cape Town, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But he was alone in a deserted area of the US with 50km and a mountain range between him and the nearest repair shop. “The...

read more
A father’s struggle to get help for his son

A father’s struggle to get help for his son

  Even though there is a history of cleft palate in their family, when little Seipati was born, his parents didn't realise he was affected. During her pregnancy, his mother went for routine ultrasound scans. But they failed to pick up the condition. After his...

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.

Global footprint