My experience at the International Student Leadership Conference of Operation Smile

August 27, 2013 8:25 am Published by

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 22nd annual Operation Smile International Student Leadership Conference in Norfolk, Virginia. The Operation Smile organization provides free cleft lip and cleft palate repair surgeries to children worldwide, assists countries in reaching self-sufficiency with these surgeries, and works to reduce the occurrence of cleft lips and palates. Attending the conference were over 500 students ranging from age 14- 26, from 24 countries traveling from as close as Virginia Beach, VA to as far away Beijing, China.

The four day conference was packed with numerous speakers who shared motivating and inspiring stories.  Dr. Bill Magee and Kathleen Magee, co founders of Operation Smile, kicked off the event with Opening Ceremonies.  Other speakers shared their experiences, ideas and reports on regional Operation Smile fundraising efforts.  However, I was most inspired by the stories of those with actual hands on experience in the field assisting on aid missions. Before attending this conference I thought the mission trips looked interesting.  Now hearing first hand experiences at this conference, my desire to participate myself has multiplied.

To help facilitate student introductions at the conference, there were lots of friendly competitions throughout the week to keep everyone entertained. These challenges were among my favorite part of the week.  In addition, all the attendees helped with special projects to support Operation Smile services.  Everyone was assigned a small toiletry to donate for inclusion in “Smile Bags” that patients receive after their operation.  The bag assembly activity was a huge undertaking with a lot of spirit.  We were all asked to bring beads and string to make friendship bracelets to and prepare packages for the children to create their own, which we added to the bag.  While I am not the craftiest person, this was still a fun group experience.

Next summer, I am looking forward to attending the 2014 ISLC in Ireland and hopefully recruiting some classmates to accompany me.  Overall my conference experience this year was fun and inspiring.  I came home with numerous ideas to fundraise for Operation Smile and determination to participate on a mission.  Meeting students like myself from all over the world with a desire to help other children was a meaningful way to spend a week in the summer.  I highly recommend the Operation Smile International Student Leadership Conference to anyone interested in making a difference in the world.

–Terrence Levens, age 15

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This post was written by Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman