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A bigger, brighter smile

A bigger, brighter smile.

By Sam Healey

Earlier this year RacingThePlanet helped fund a mission by Operation Smile doctors to visit Bahariya – the oasis town in the Sahara Desert whose inhabitants have been deeply involved in the Sahara Race for the past five years.

Not only do competitors sometimes race through the oasis and some of the outlying villages during the event, where they are hosted for tea if they wish to take a short break, but most of the local drivers and logistics crew for the race are also from the town.

During the last Sahara Race a checkpoint was set up in El Jeis village on the long Stage 5. The oasis is over seven hours drive through the desert from Cairo, and the nearest doctors are quite a way away. As word spread that there were two doctors in the village, the local Bedouin community took the opportunity to come down and ask their advice about any ailments they had.

One gentleman happened to speak with the doctors about a child in the town who had a cleft lip and it suddenly became apparent that RacingThePlanet’s partnership with Operation Smile that had seen them fund a previous mission in Cairo in 2008, could be put to work in this community that had first welcomed the Sahara Race back in 2005.

Telephone calls were made, discussions had, and plans laid with Operation Smile for a fact-finding team to be sent to Bahariya during their next mission to Alexandria scheduled for May 2010.

During the doctors’ visit to the oasis a number of patients were identified with facial deformities who could be helped through surgery. Seven of them made the long trip to Alexandria with their families and received surgery, with more scheduled for treatment during Operation Smile’s next visit to Cairo including the young infant below, who was only four months old in May.

Photo courtesy of Operation Smile/Devin Wilson

He arrived at the hospital from the oasis with his sister and father. They all had cleft deformities and were screened for surgery. His sister received surgery that day, and now the young man and his father are scheduled for their operations in October.

During the busy mission in May, Operation Smile provided surgery for 152 people and physical exams for 293 screening patients in total.

Lucas Carlson, program coordinator for Operation Smile said in a recent missive from their headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, about the mission, “I would like to sincerely thank all of our Operation Smile team who helped to make this mission and all of these operations possible…I would also like to thank our sponsor “RacingThePlanet” for supporting a group of patients from far away in the desert, who could never have had the opportunity to receive life-changing surgery without them.”

What started as an informal conversation over a cup of tea in the desert, has now happily changed seven families' lives for the better.

Note: RacingThePlanet has been involved in raising more than US$500,000 for Operation Smile to fund missions in China, Vietnam, Namibia and Egypt, and will be supporting the charity again at the Sahara Race 2010.
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