Joy, laughter and smiles all round

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 October, 2011, 12:00am


Christmas came early for dozens of children and their families when Morgan Stanley employees visited the Operation Smile-run charity hospital in Hangzhou in June, supported by the annual Operation Santa Claus fund-raising campaign.

Every year, the South China Morning Post and RTHK organise the Operation Santa Claus charity appeal to help the underprivileged. Last year's campaign raised more than HK$13 million, which went to 14 charities - including the US-based charity Operation Smile - and two social enterprises. Morgan Stanley and other companies dug deep into their pockets to support the cause.

The money donated to Operation Smile helped fund reconstructive surgery for 300 needy children with cleft lips and cleft palates in Hangzhou. As part of Morgan Stanley's charity month in June, 17 employees from its Shanghai office volunteered to go to the Operation Smile charity hospital to visit patients - mostly children - and deliver presents.

'Seeing is believing, so when donors come and visit the centre and talk to the babies and families, then they know what we do in China,' said Michael Wu, chief operating officer of Operation Smile.

The US-based non-governmental organisation, which has its main China office in Hong Kong, has offered free operations to correct cleft lips and palates to the mainland's poor for 20 years.

Each year, one in every 600 babies on the mainland is born with a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both. Both conditions have been linked to genetics or nutrition and they are easily fixed with a one-hour operation that costs between 5,000 yuan and 20,000 yuan (HK$6,100 to HK$24,300). But many families cannot afford it, and the public health system does not provide the surgery, Wu said.

The visit by Morgan Stanley employees was an important part of the donation process, he said, because families with cleft-palate members were often ostracised by society.

'Often, their neighbours look down on them, so these babies stay inside, at home,' he said. 'The visits let donors see a charity hospital, and they let parents see how people care for them, so they don't feel so abandoned by society.

'This is a special gift from Morgan Stanley and Operation Santa Claus, and the families will never forget this for the rest of their lives.'

The three-storey charity hospital opened four years ago and has carried out 7,000 of the operations so far.

With three operating rooms and four wards, the hospital is staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses and non-medical staff who help with translating, medical records and support before and after the operations.

April Zhou, a translator with Morgan Stanley, saw first-hand how Operation Smile changed the lives of children forever. 'I think this hospital is doing great things, and I hope more families can learn about it.'

Kenneth Rhee, who works in investment management with Morgan Stanley, said: 'Just one hour can change their lives. That's simply amazing.'