In April of 2018 we identified another opportunity for our students to make an international impact of sorts. Operation Smile is a nonprofit which repairs cleft deformities in numerous developing nations. The organization’s services and impact are wide-ranging and provide a life-changing surgery to children that many of our students didn’t even understand before undertaking this project. The majority of cleft deformities of children in the United Sates are repaired very early in their lives; because of this, when many of my students “Googled” what a cleft deformity looks like, they were shocked. This helped to again widen their understanding of the world and its challenges and also helped them empathize with a person trying to interact with others and live normally with such a deformity.
When I contacted Operation Smile they were happy to provide guidance about how my students could contribute to their work and help with ideas to increase the variety of projects my students were able to participate in; after some emailing we settled on students having the opportunity to design and 3D print toys, create plush rattles for their particularly young patients, and sew what Operation Smiles calls “Smile Splints,” which are essentially fabric items made stiff with tongue depressors and tied with ribbon to prevent children waking up from surgery from touching their mouths. Operation Smile welcomed the idea that students would actually design 3D printed toys and although we initially explored students doing that we ultimately found a neat print on Thingiverse that we decided to make several of, dinosaur puzzles.
Students enjoyed the variety of opportunities in this project and we had interesting conversations about both the surgery itself and why it was important. 5 students contributed to this project during this busy month (including one new student who hadn’t worked in the space before) and we donated 6 puzzles, 9 rattles, and 18 splints.