Malawian Students Create Impact Through Action

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Student volunteers for Operation Smile Malawi provide a free basic health screening as part of their B-Fit program in March 2018. Photo: Luke Banda

The student team behind Operation Smile Malawi's B-Fit program knew their on-the-road health screenings would do two good things for members of their community: They’d get valuable check-ups, and they’d learn more about Operation Smile and the care it provides for people born with cleft conditions.

What the students didn’t know is that their program would change lives right from the start.

“Thank you for coming,” a woman told student volunteer Protazia Kamdambo during their first-ever event in July 2017 at St. Michaels and All Angels Church, in Blantyre. “We have a cousin with a cleft lip who’s always hidden in the house, but now that I have been told of this, I will register and bring her during the medical mission.”

And that she did.

“During the medical mission in August, I met her with the cousin,” said Protazia, a student at the National College of Information Technology. “And she said, ‘Thank you for coming to that event. Because of you people, my cousin’s life has been changed – she can get married now.’”

This family was among the hundreds of people who have benefited from the medical screenings provided by the B-Fit program since the initiative kicked off that July, according to Luke Banda, program coordinator with Operation Smile Malawi.

Here's how the program works: The Operation Smile student club partners up with medical volunteers to offer health screenings – checking stats such as blood pressure, sugar levels, weight and dental health – at locations around the community, such as churches and office parks.

And in just three events since its inception in July 2017, the B-Fit program has rallied 37 medical volunteers, provided almost 200 screenings, reached almost 1,000 people and raised hundreds of U.S. dollars.

The real measurement of success, though, has been the community's overwhelming response to the B-Fit program.

“To say the truth, the way the people welcomed this event was even surprising to us – we never thought that many would participate,” Protazia said.

The B-Fit program was the brainchild of Operation Smile student volunteers in the community, and they organize each event, Luke said.

“The program is one of the many initiatives that our students have in place with the purpose of fundraising to support children born with cleft,” he said.

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Volunteers at Operation Smile Malawi's second B-Fit program in October 2017 pose for a group photo. Photo: Luke Banda.


“As student volunteers, we sat down and thought of fundraising events we can do, and we wanted to make sure both parties benefit,” said Protazia, who's studying business computing and information systems. “As Operation Smile is a medical (nonprofit), we thought in that (realm), and hence the B-Fit program idea was born. With the help of Program Coordinator Luke Banda and Operation Smile Program Manager Ibrahim Nthalika, it was implemented.”

“Its main goal is to help fundraise for Operation Smile while also helping the people to know about their health,” said Cynthia Kasenda, who studies humanities at the University of Malawi, Chancellor College. “We can say it’s a win-win situation.”

Protazia said the B-Fit program has been great for both the community and Operation Smile; offering this service to people going about their day means they get a checkup they may not have had the time for, and they learn about Operation Smile’s mission to provide free surgical care for children born with cleft lip or cleft palate.

The first B-Fit event “was a long, hot, busy day, but I learned that knowing you are a part of something that is changing people’s lives for the better gives you joy and strength to carry on,” Protazia said.

“It’s always a great feeling, seeing the smiles of people after the surgery is done,” Cynthia said. “It’s hope for the hopeless, and knowing I was part of the process is everything to me.”

Cynthia witnessed this kind of hope first-hand during the B-Fit exercise in March.

“A man came for an eye test, and he was not familiar with what Operation Smile does,” she said. “So I explained this to him using posters, and he was amazed because his first born had a cleft lip.” He ended up making a donation so that children like his could get the surgery they need, she said.

And now that three successful B-Fit exercises have been completed – one that July, another to mark World Smile Day in October, and the most recent event in March – the plan is to keep up the momentum with even more events in different cities, Banda said.

“The B-Fit program is not stopping, for there are many areas where it is needed, for example, offices, schools, etc.,” Protazia said. “We will go everywhere we can.”

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Students pose for a selfie during their second B-Fit exercise in October 2017. Operation Smile photo.
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“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President