Hundreds of Operation Smile student volunteers from around the world will come together at San Diego State University to launch the UNTIL WE HEAL campaign globally. UNTIL WE HEAL engages young people in advocating for the 5 billion people – two thirds of the world’s population – who do not have access to life-saving surgical care.
Students are traveling from 29 countries including Africa, South America, the Middle East, Europe, the United States and Canada to attend the 25th annual Operation Smile International Student Leadership Conference to begin July 18th. Students will participate in training workshops for upcoming medical missions, host a “hackathon” on ways the global health community can address barriers to medical care in low- and middle-income countries, and conduct a walk to a local hospital to raise awareness for the distances patients must travel to receive medical care.
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The weeklong conference will culminate in a concert featuring Grammy-nominated musician, Chris Daughtry and internet dance sensation John Philip “Big Bang Balang” Bughaw, whose dance videos have received millions of views resulting in several appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. At age seven, Big Bang Balang became Operation Smile’s youngest ambassador after learning about the organization’s work. This year, Big Bang Balang found a young girl in his village in the Philippines, Aliyah, who was unable to afford surgery to repair her cleft lip and cleft palate. Big Bang Balang introduced her family to Operation Smile and this fall she will receive free life-saving surgery.
At the concert on July 22nd, Big Bang Balang will debut a new song, Big Bang Bounce, as well as new dance. He will challenge students to recreate his dance moves, and share their own #BigBangBounce videos on social media. At the end of August, Big Bang Balang will select winning videos to be featured in his premier music video for the song, which will debut in September. He hopes the dance will help raise awareness for the UNTIL WE HEAL campaign and inspire others to get involved in addressing the lack of access to safe surgery, which is why so many children in low- and middle-income countries continue to suffer from treatable conditions like cleft.
“I am happy I found Operation Smile, because now I can help people in my village like Aliyah,” said Big Bang Balang. “I want to keep helping people and make them smile.” On a similar note, Chris Daughtry, who is performing at the concert, said, “I am thrilled to be working with Operation Smile to be able to give every child the smile they deserve.”
Travel to the U.S. for Big Bang Balang and his family to attend the Operation Smile event was made possible by a generous donation of the flights from Philippine Airlines.
In addition to the concert, throughout the conference, students will also utilize Johnson & Johnson’s Donate a Photo mobile app to help fundraise for Operation Smile and highlight the inequity in surgical access. For every photo uploaded through the Donate a Photo app, Johnson & Johnson donates $1 to the organization to conduct free surgeries and medical training programs.
At the same time, also in San Diego, Actor and Operation Smile Ambassador Zachary Levi will host his signature Comic-Con event, Nerd HQ. The fan favorite philanthropic panel series “Conversations for a Cause” will once again take place, with all proceeds benefitting Operation Smile.
Elementary, middle and high school students have formed more than 900 Operation Smile student clubs in the United States, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Operation Smile student activities aim to empower youth globally through advocacy, education, leadership and service. Student volunteers also attend Operation Smile medical missions to educate local communities about basic first aid, dental hygiene and nutrition.
“It is heartbreaking to know how many children around the world cannot receive access to safe surgical care and have to suffer in pain because of it,” said Kathy Magee, President and Co-Founder of Operation Smile. “Access to safe surgery is not a problem on many people’s minds and we are so proud of our student volunteers and young leaders, who are taking on the challenge to bring this issue to the forefront and be advocates for those in need.”
To learn more, make a donation or find out how to get involved, visit www.UntilWeHeal.org