Soaring to New Heights with AirAsia and Operation Smile

In the photo: Jehro, Luke, and their families with AirAsia’s cabin crew.

Philippines AirAsia’s partnership with Operation Smile Philippines (OSP) began this year by transporting two children with cleft lip and palate conditions from Tacloban City to Manila on March 19, 2023. Jehro, who is three years old, and Luke, who is nine months old, received cleft and surgical care at OSP’s Pampanga Cleft Care Center, located in The Medical City Clark.

Jehro was born with both cleft lip and palate conditions. He had his first surgery at seven months old in OSP’s Tacloban Surgical Program in January 2019, right before the pandemic started. He was supposed to have his second surgery in 2020, but the pandemic affected all activities of OSP, causing a delay. However, at the start of 2023, OSP sought patients to fly to Manila for cleft care, and Jehro was chosen as one of the two patients.

Jehro, a 3-year-old boy, is an energetic kid who loves playing and watching sports like football, golf, and billiards. He also enjoys the ocean and exploring the nature around him. He is talkative and likes to sing. Jehro’s parents are very hands-on with their children, and they make ends meet by freelancing and selling clothes online.

“Hindi po namin makakalimutan itong moment na ito. Taos-puso po kaming nagpapasalamat.” [We will never forget this moment until he grows old. We’re grateful sincerely, from the bottom of our hearts.] Jehro’s mom said in an interview with the parents of the children.

Luke was born with a unilateral cleft lip. When he was nine months old, he received his first lip surgery. Luke’s father is a farmer and construction worker who is on call. When Luke was born, his parents were unaware that his condition could be addressed. Additionally, he was the only one in his family with a cleft lip. Upon seeing his cleft lip condition, neighbors often looked at Luke with dismay, but this did not trouble his parents. They immediately committed to the schedule after learning that Luke could receive surgery last March.

“Maraming salamat po sa AirAsia sa tulong po ninyo lalo na po sa anak namin. Di po namin ito makakalimutan. Kayo po ang maaalala namin tuwing ngumingiti po ang anak namin.” [Thank you, AirAsia, for all help specially to our child. We will never forget this. You’ll be the one we’ll remember every time our child smiles.] Luke’s mom said.

L-R: AirAsia Philippines Head of Communications and Public Affairs Steve Dailisan and Chief Executive Officer Ricky Isla hand over a cheque donation amounting to PHP229,249 to Operation Smile Philippines Executive Director Emiliano Romano and Development Manager Carolynne Arriola

In January 31, 2023, OSP and Philippines AirAsia renewed their alliance and strengthened their relationship with new innovative projects in the pipeline. AirAsia has been instrumental in the success of providing care to OSP’s patients, serving as their transportation provider, and sharing their cause with the many transient travelers who pass through their airlines. They announce their cause and collect onboard donations, making them a vital partner in providing care to their patients.

Inflight cash donations totaled more than half a million pesos for the past year, allowing OSP to provide even more comprehensive cleft care to their patients who need it the most. This year marks a new year and new opportunities to improve how to transform smiles more effectively.

AirAsia Philippines Chief Executive Officer Ricky Isla shares: “This reinforced partnership with Operation Smile Philippines signifies our resolve to make it happen for the Filipino children and their families. Our vision in AirAsia of inclusive growth is evident—-beyond connecting people, we want to be there for the people we serve, especially the marginalized. Each time you fly with AirAsia, you don’t just reach your destination safely, but you can change people’s lives for the better.”

Operation Smile Philippines Executive Director Emiliano Romano said, “I am ecstatic about renewing our partnership between Operation Smile Philippines and AirAsia.  Our vision and cause of transforming lives cannot be done alone; instead, it takes a community of like-minded individuals to affect change.  AirAsia has been an essential partner, a vessel, and a catalyst of change.

We look forward to more projects in the many years to come.”

AirAsia will be vital in transporting medical volunteers and patients in the coming years as Operation Smile Philippines grows.

Inspiring and Empowering Others

The Italian Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (ICCPI) recently concluded its Leadership Awards for the year 2022. And our very own Executive Director Emiliano Romano bagged the coveted Outstanding Leadership Award!

This award celebrates exceptional Italian and Filipino business leaders, entrepreneurs, and organizations who continue to promote outstanding practices and global excellence in their respective fields This also aims to recognize executives who have proven significant leadership skills by being role models for their passion, integrity, authenticity, vision, strategy, perseverance, commitment and business capacity in his industry.

Fielded are thirty (30) nominees for 10 different awards categories including, (1) Woman in Business of the Year, (2) Exceptional Entrepreneur Award, (3) “ItalPinoy” of the Year, (4) Restaurateur of the Year, (5) Emerging Entrepreneur, (6) Sustainability Business/ Entrepreneur, (7) Innovation Champion, (8) Young Business Leader, (9) Outstanding Leadership, and (10) Italian Executive of the Year.

The event also had the privilege of having an esteemed group for its panel of judges. Among them ICCPI’s President Sergio Boero, Dusit Thani’s Managing Director Stanley Lo, BDO Capital’s President Eduardo Francisco, Proactive Resources CEO Hermod Allertsen, and Italian Consul Antonio Gallo.    

The event also strengthened relationships within the Italian-Filipino business network creating a sense of family, very dear to both cultures due to its shared practices and common cultural heritage. 

Operation Smile Philippines- Partnerships, Collaborations, and Renovations bring us one step closer to a zero-cleft City of Manila

Deliberations on how to transform children’s lives are always met with heartwarming eagerness, but rarely are they executed with precision and haste.

The goal? A Cleft-Free Manila City with the support of Operation Smile Canada.

Operation Smile Philippines, the City Mayor of Manila, and Sta. Ana Hospital agreed a year ago on a project that will double down on transforming the lives of cleft patients by creating a Manila Cleft Care Center “MCCC.”

By renovating the 8th-floor surgical wing, we will ultimately double the capacity at which we can screen and conduct surgeries.

Today marks a milestone for Operation Smile Philippines as we had a ribbon-cutting day for the newly renovated Sta. Ana Hospital Ambulatory Surgical Clinic x Operation Smile brings us within striking range of the goal.

Present at the ribbon-cutting event:

Manila Mayor Honey Lacuña

Hospital Director Dr. Grace Padilla

Manila Vice Mayor John Marvin C Nieto

OSP Executive Director: Emiliano Romano


program aims to highlight women’s critical role in health care in the Philippines and globally 

Operation Smile is launching its Women in Medicine program in the Asia region with an all-female international surgical and educational mission in Cebu City, from October 10 to 15, 2022, aimed at putting the spotlight on the critical role women play in the global health care system, and to encourage them to take on leadership roles in their professions.

Kathy Magee

“Women in Medicine” is central to our 10-year goal of increasing access to quality care for one million patients around the world, and to help build global health infrastructure,” said Operation Smile co-founder and president, Kathleen Magee, who is flying to the Philippines to lead the launch

The program seeks to educate women in resource-poor countries on advanced medical practices, empower them become leaders in global medicine, expand opportunities for female health care workers in underserved communities, and  elevate the quality of cleft care, Magee said.  

“There are 5 million patients in need of cleft care in the countries we work in, and 5 billion people who lacks access to safe surgery across the world; we can’t address this need without more women in the health care arena,” Magee said.

The Cebu launch will kick off with a one-day forum on women empowerment in the medical field for all the participants, followed by four days of free surgeries and care for 80 children with cleft lip and cleft palate at the Cebu City Medical Center. 

In partnership with its in-country foundation, Operation Smile Philippines, longtime NGO ally in Cebu, the MSY Charitable Foundation, and the Cebu City Government, Operation Smile assembled a team of 60 volunteer cleft care professionals from 12 countries. 

The multinational team comprises of plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, dentists, speech therapists, child life specialists and biomedical technicians from the U.S., Vietnam, Australia, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Honduras, Sweden, UK, Egypt, South Africa, and the Philippines. 

Filipino plastic surgeon, Dr. Lora Mae De Guzman, and anesthesiologist, Dr. Rosario Loraine Moscare will lead the medical team.  Both are long-time Operation Smile volunteers.

“Our ultimate goal is to inspire and enable women to take on leadership roles in the medical field so they can help shape policies that would attract more women into the fold and equip them with global-standard skills to widen access to safe surgery and quality cleft care,” Magee said.

“By empowering women in medicine at the local and regional level, we are creating a transformative change that will ripple across the health care landscape,” she added.

Women comprise 70% of health professional across the world, said the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The figure is even higher In the Philippines. Women account for 75% of the country’s nearly 500,000 health professionals, said the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in a 2018 survey.  

Still, despite the seeming large number, the Philippines lacks 290,000 health care workers to meet the WHO-recommended ratio of 44.5 health workers for every 10,000 of the population, the Human Resources for Health Network (HRHN) estimated in a 2019 study.   

HRHN, the multi-sectoral agency the Department of Health created to align public health policies and implementation, said less than 1% of employed Filipinos are working as health professionals, 

Operation Smile Philippines’ executive director, Emiliano Romano, said the novel Women in Medicine initiative is being piloted in the Philippines, where Operation Smile started in 1982, as well as in Morocco, Malawi, and Peru.    

The plan is to roll out the program in all 35 Operation Smile program countries, Romano added.  


Pigeon Philippines Beneficiaries

Today, the first 2 beneficiaries of the donations from Pigeon Philippines received products for their babies who are born with cleft lip and palate conditions. These products shall support these children to receive the right amount of nutrition that they need as newborns. 

Babies born with cleft lip and palate conditions face various challenges of malnutrition because of difficulty in latching caused by the malformation of their lip and palate.

Pigeon is a brand well-known for its high-quality maternal and baby products. They are dedicated to promoting inclusivity by offering solutions that are tailor-fitted for the needs of babies so as to achieve happiness for every child one at a time.

Putting smiles on faces when we all need it most

The global pandemic has created a lot of disruptions, but the one thing it could not shut down is the power of volunteerism – people overcoming challenges to give their time and services to aid those impacted the most.

For Operation Smile Philippines (OSP), this means continuing to provide free reconstructive surgery, post-surgery speech therapy and related healthcare to children in resource-poor communities affected by a cleft lip or palate.

However, the pandemic has prevented volunteers from conducting the therapy in person. To get around the problem, they initiated an online speech therapy, or teletherapy, program in July 2021 so that they could continue their work to improve the children’s communication skills and self-confidence.

“This can have a transformative impact on the children as the goal is for them to be able to speak normally so that they can attend school and interact with other people without fear of being ridiculed,” said University of the Philippines professor, Fernando Alejandro Ligot, an OSP volunteer of 20 years. “We work with various partners, including UPS Philippines, to bring that smile back to the children.”

The global logistics provider, via its charitable arm The UPS Foundation, awarded a grant to OSP for the purchase of internet-ready tablets and headsets to equip patients with the tools to undergo therapy online. With more children, many of them scattered across the country, gaining access to the sessions, it helps OSP’s online speech therapy service – known as Assessment and Clinical Care through Electronic Speech Services, or ACCESS – to expand.

ACCESS comprises eight virtual sessions – one session per week for two months – with each patient assigned to a volunteer speech therapist. Each session is conducted in the presence of the patient’s parent or guardian who is also given instructions on additional exercises the child can practice at home in between sessions.

UPS employees are also volunteering to support the patients and their parents during therapy as well as outside of these sessions via teleconference calls. Each employee volunteer is assigned to a particular patient for the entire duration of the engagement.

“The partnership with UPS is a very significant and crucial collaboration because more kids are able to receive therapy, and therefore they have better opportunities to develop communication skills and become confident members of their communities and society,” said Emiliano Romano, Operation Smile Philippines Executive Director.

That difference is felt by those on the receiving end.

Maraming salamat sa Operation Smile kasi hindi sila nagsasawa na tumulong sa amin, mula surgery hanggang therapy. Hindi na mahiyain makipaglaro si Reeze. Mas naiintindihan na sya ng ibang bata. Nakatulong yon breathing exercises at lahat ng speech and reading exercises. Maraming salamat rin sa UPS sa pagbibigay ng gadget. Ang laking tulong sa therapy, pati na rin sa online classes ni Reeze [Thank you very much to Operation Smile for helping us from surgery to therapy. Reeze is no longer shy to play. Other children understand her better. Breathing exercises and all speech and reading exercises helped. Many thanks also to UPS for providing the tablet. This really helped in therapy, as well as with Reeze’s online classes,” said Joanalyn Pingki-an from Caloocan. Her 9-year-old daughter, Reeze Alaina is a Grade 3 student at the Arsenio Lacson Elementary School.

As part of their #UPSGivesBack global campaign, UPSers have committed to 30 million volunteer hours by 2030, with UPS Philippines participating in Operation Smile’s programs and other charities across the country as part of UPS’s Global Volunteer Month which takes place every year in April.

“Despite the pandemic, UPSers find ways to give back to the communities we serve by sharing our time and resources and connecting with people to build purposeful relationships and engagements,” said Tessa Santos, UPS Community Involvement Committee (CIC) executive sponsor and operations manager.

The UPS CIC is also organizing activities in partnership with SOS Children’s Villages Philippines, Project Pearls for the COVID-19 Hunger Relief Program and AIP Foundation for the Safety Delivered campaign which raises awareness of the importance of safe driving and child helmet use. 

“Many of these partnerships have been in place for years. We’ve completed numerous projects together already and we’re looking forward to continuing new initiatives for many years to come,” added Tessa.

Pigeon X OSP Partnership

Pigeon X OSP Partnership

July 29, 2022 – Pigeon Philippines representative Ms. Catherine Que, Division Marketing Manager visited the Operation Smile Philippines Makati head office to turnover their donations for their ongoing and future missions of putting smiles on children’s faces one at a time.

Pigeon is a brand well-known for its high-quality maternal and baby products, such as breast pumps, pacifiers, and baby bottles to name a few. They are dedicated to promoting inclusivity by offering products that are tailor-fitted for the needs of babies with cleft lip and palate conditions.

With this partnership, they donated the following to Operation Smile Philippines:

✔️ 108pcs Manual Breast Pump

✔️ 240pcs Nursing Bottle for Cleft Palate

✔️ 240pcs Post-op Bottles

This marks the beginning of Pigeon Philippines and Operation Smile Philippines working simultaneously for their shared vision of bringing happiness to children’s lives.

SWING for Smiles 2022

Operation Smile Philippines invites you to SWING for Smiles this coming May 26, 2022.

Come and help us raise funds for children born with cleft lip and palate so we may be able to provide them with free comprehensive cleft care. 

Raffle prizes and giveaways await those who will join! 

We are also looking for tournament sponsors. If your company is interested in partnering with us, please don’t hesitate to message us. 

Register now through this link:

Oplan Smile Impact Report

Super Typhoon Rai, locally known as Odette, made landfall in Visayas and Mindanao last December 16, 2021. The violent winds, torrential rains, floods, and storm surges left thousands of families homeless. The fact that it happened a few days before Christmas made the tragedy harder for communities to handle.

Because of this, Operation Smile Philippines launched “Oplan Smile!”

Working hand in hand with Operation Smile Student Programs Philippines for Cebu, Dr. Lilian Arcinas and her team for Palawan, Hope Foundation for Bacolod, and our own team for Davao – we tapped the foundation’s calamity fund to send relief supplies to our countrymen in need.

Here is our Impact Report to share how your help made a huge difference in the lives of our fellow Filipinos: