Written by: Armin P. Adina
For a period of five days just this month, 60 corrective surgeries for children with cleft conditions were conducted in the Philippines through the “Give A Smile” program by AS Watson, the world’s largest international health and beauty retailer, through its partnership with Operation Smile.
The procedures were done at The Medical City Clark in Mabalacat, Pampanga, from Oct. 17 to 21, and was witnessed by AS Watson (Asia and Europe) CEO Malina Ngai and director of corporate communications and Watsons brand marketing Hanks Lee, with Operation Smile senior vice president of strategy and global development Benedetta Spinola. They were welcomed to the country by Watsons Philippines Managing Director Danilo Chiong and Marketing Director Sharon Decapia, who oversaw the initiative in the country.
“With AS Watson, we have a purpose in the company, which is to put a smile on customers’ faces today and tomorrow,” Ngai said at a press briefing after several surgical procedures on beneficiaries from Pampanga and neighboring provinces on Oct. 19. In the Philippines alone, 2,600 surgeries have been reported since the global program started in 2018.
“In the past, a lot of our charity programs are local-based. But in 2018, I came across Operation Smile. I realized that there are kids out there with cleft lip or palate, with cleft lip conditions where they don’t really have a choice whether they smile or not smile,” Ngai said. The company then launched an ambitious program to sponsor 10,000 surgeries by 2030 across all the markets where they operate. And based on forecasts, the goal may be achieved by 2026, with the Philippines contributing 33 percent of the target, or a total of 3,300 surgeries.
The program not only offered changes physically, it also transformed the lives of the children and their families. Ngai said there was one girl who stopped schooling because of bullying. “Imagine if you are parents, how would you feel? It is quite sad. But with the surgery, she returned to school and then went on to college. She told us that she wants to be a flight attendant one day,” she said.
“Another boy, Jumbo, he’s 11 years old, also had the same type of bullying experience … But he got the surgery and he is now in Grade 6, and he’s getting high grades. He’s a very positive boy as well,” added Ngai, who said similar transformational stories also happen in other countries.
Chiong also shared the story of one of the first beneficiaries of the program in the Philippines who is now a professional singer, with no traces of cleft surgery at all.
Through “Give A Smile”, AS Watson is also supporting Operation Smile’s “Women in Medicine” initiative that promotes inclusivity in medical and health education, and empowers women to become global leaders in medicine and healthcare. It has also engaged the youth in Asia and Europe through the AS Watson Next Gen Sustainability Committee.
The public may join Watsons Philippines in helping transform children’s lives. “Give A Smile” donation cans are found in over 600 Watsons stores nationwide to collect funds for the surgeries. Donations may also be coursed through the Watsons Online Store. Watsons Card and SM Advantage Card points may also be donated for the cause.
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