Hyundai donation helps Smile Foundation bring a change to children’s lives
Kim Robertson Smith (left), CEO of the Smile Foundation, and Rebecca Mogale with Rebecca’s five-month-old daughter, Tshimologo, who underwent surgery for a cleft lip as part of the Smile Foundation’s “Smile Week” at the Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital in Garankuwa. Hyundai Automotive South Africa donated R125 000 towards Smile Week to coincide with the celebration of Mandela Day on 18 July.

It all started more than 22 years ago with a little girl, Thando, who could not smile, and her mother’s belief that she could bring a difference to her daughter’s life by writing numerous letters to the president at the time, Nelson Mandela, with a request for assistance.

Thabile’s persistence paid off when one of her letters landed among Madiba’s personal mail, and touched his heart. He sent out a request to Marc Lubner, founder of the Smile Foundation, for help for little Thando, who was suffering from Möbius syndrome which causes facial paralysis.

Through Lubner’s intervention, surgery was made possible to give Thando a smile, and the Smile Foundation was born.

It was to this non-profit organisation, which brings a life-changing intervention for thousands of children with facial abnormalities or severe burns through the best possible surgical and psychological care, that Hyundai Automotive South Africa donated R125 000 on Mandela Day, 18 July.

This amount, together with other donations and sponsorships from various corporate donors, enabled the Smile Foundation and its participating surgeons to perform several operations per day during the “Smile Week” that coincides with Mandela Day.

“It is very gratifying for us – through this donation – to be part of such a project that changes forever the lives of children born with facial abnormalities. It literally brings a smile to their faces,” said Gideon Jansen van Rensburg, CEO of Hyundai Automotive SA.

The Smile Foundation has been in existence for 22 years and has developed a sustainable model which was piloted in Gauteng at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. Based on its success, it has expanded the “Smile Week” model into 6 other provinces and collaboration with the Department of Health and various other academic hospitals countrywide.

A Smile Week, such as the one happening this week at the Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital in Garankuwa, north of Pretoria, is a comprehensive project where surgeons, doctors, nurses, anaesthetists, occupational therapists, speech and hearing therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, the Department of Health, sponsors, patrons and various individuals work together.

What makes a Smile Week unique are the individuals who volunteer their services because they are moved by the opportunity to contribute and see immediate results, says Kim Robertson Smith, CEO of the Smile Foundation. She says a Smile Week enables the department of plastic and reconstructive surgery to operate on as many children as possible and sometimes perform complex procedures.

This aids the hospital in reducing any backlog of patients waiting for surgery. Each Smile Week can assist up to 45 children, depending on the complexity of the cases and time required for each procedure.

A sponsorship for a Smile Day or Smile Week covers, among others, the surgery, pre-operative counselling for patients and caregivers, consumables used during surgery, overtime pay for theatre staff and ward nurses, accommodation for caregivers while their child undergoes surgery, as well as food, transport and travel, and equipment such as instruments, surgical items, cot beds etc. where necessary.