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CBNC, RTNMC, Operation Smile aim for cleft-free Palawan

TAYTAY, PALAWAN — IN a bid to make Palawan the first cleft lip/palate-free province in the country, Nickel Asia’s affiliate companies—Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC) and Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) partnered with Operation Smile Philippines (OSP) to address indigents afflicted with such disorder.

Wide smiles were therefore on everyone's faces as residents from all over the island flocked to Taytay, north of Palawan last August 9 to avail of the free surgery.

In a medical mission conducted in Northern Palawan Provincial Hospital (NPPH), Operation Smile Executive Director Gian Trebol said at least 49 qualified indigents, out of the 75 target beneficiaries, underwent free surgery.

This is because the Operation Smile team had to screen and assess each patient whether or not he/she is qualified for the surgery each patient must be physically and mentally prepared.

Thankfully most of those who came passed the screening and were lucky enough to be qualified for the surgery.

The surgery to correct cleft lip/palate, Trebol said, costs anywhere between P70,000 to P100,000. This would put the surgery beyond the reach of the island's residents whose main livelihood is fishing.

So OSP and NAC/RTNMC and CBNC reached out to the residents afflicted with the deformity and offered the surgery services for free.

Because of the generosity of CBNC and RTNMC, Trebol said Palawenos can now enjoy free surgery with the aim of making Palawan the first-ever cleft-free province in the country.

“With the help of our sponsors—CBNC and RTNMC, we are willing to frequently return in Palawan until we have reduced the number of cleft cases to zero,” he said.

Ordeal coming to the mission

Most of the patients travelled for almost 30 hours, some even more, fully aware that there was a chance that they may be turned down for the surgery.

Nine year-old Joana Lei Abian, accompanied by her mother Darlene from Cambian, Agutaya travelled 29 hours all the way to Taytay, Palawan just to undergo oral cleft surgery.

In recalling their ordeal in coming to Taytay, Darlene said they also had to wait for the weather to improve as Palawan was battered by heavy rain.

“Nagdalawang-isip kaming pumunta sa mission kasi nga masama ang panahon (We had second thoughts of coming to the mission because of the bad weather),” said Darlene.

Luckily, the weather did improve, a good sign for them to travel to Northern Palawan Provincial Hospital (NPPH) in Taytay.

“Salamat sa Diyos, gumanda ang panahon kaya natuloy kami sa pagpunta sa mission (Thank God the weather improved so we went to the mission),” added Darlene as tears rolled in her eyes.

After knowing about the OSP mission in Palawan, Darlene was determined to bring her daughter for an oral cleft surgery because this could only be the way for Joana Lei to pursue her studies without hindrances.

“Gusto niyang maging abogado paglaki niya kaya para matupad niya ang pangarap niya kailangan niyang magtapos sa pag-aaral (She really wanted to become a lawyer someday, so in order for her to fulfill her dream, she really have to finish school),” said


Darlene added: “Malaking bagay itong mission sa amin dahil wala naman kaming pera para ipa-opera si Joana Lei (The mission was very important for us because we cannot afford to pay for Joana Lei’s operation).”

Cleft kids’ dismal condition

Operation Smile research shows that every three minutes, a child is born with cleft.

Roberto J. Manzano, OSP Country Director for Development, said the congenital defect disfigures the patients’ faces and impairs their speech, leaving them open to rejection and bullying.

He said these children grow up being bullied and labelled as outcasts of society, and don’t even get the education that they need because they are afraid and ashamed.

“The impact of these deformities on a child is really very serious. I mean it’s not just a medical problem, it’s actually a social problem for the child with a cleft lip or cleft palate deformity,” said Manzano.

If the deformity will not be treated, Manzano said, it affects the self-esteem of the individual adding that “the child will never be able to have a normal social life, he will be bullied.”

Changing children’s lives Ernesto Llacuna, external affairs consultant and spokesman for CBNC and RTNMC, said most of the time, children with cleft problems grow up uneducated and isolated with no employable skills in adulthood.

“Unless we treat them, they will have no future,” said Llacuna.

But it only 45 minutes, that child’s life can now be turned around.

Residents, specifically those with the deformity, can now smile, and smile sweetly.

The Operation Smile team comprising of plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, a pediatrician, dentists, nurses, speech biomedical and patient imaging technicians, travelled more than 200 kilometers from Puerto Princesa city just to perform the free surgeries.

With the medical mission came a new hope: an end to growing up without knowing the feeling of a kiss or being able to whistle, or not being able to eat and speak properly.

And so change came to the people of Northern Palawan. The medical mission not only targeted those afflicted with the deformity but has set its sight to zero-incidents in the future.

In expressing gratitude to OPS, CBNC and RTNMC, Dr. Ryan Estrada, Chief of Northern Palawan Provincial Hospital, said the mission does not only benefit Taytayanos but also residents from far-flung areas such as Agutaya, Roxas, Dumaran, San Vicente and El Nido.

“We are very thankful to Operation Smile, CBNC and RTNMC for choosing Palawan to be their beneficiary. This will definitely help our less fortunate cleft patients to avail of the free surgery,” said Dr. Estrada.

While there is no concrete proof or evidence that cleft lip/palate can run in the genes, there is a higher probability of men and women with cleft to pass it on to their children.

Thus, Tim Lu, Program Officer of Operation Smile, challenges the citizens of the Philippines to be agents of change and spread awareness on one of the leading cases of deformities in the country — cleft lip/palate.

The overwhelming turnout at the medical mission was definitely a clear indication that Operation Smile, working together with private companies like NAC, RTNMC and CBNC, and of course, with the all-important support and cooperation of the residents as well, could make achieving the change immediately.

Mission in Southern Palawan

Showcasing Palawan as the country's first cleft lip/palate-free province is off to a good start.

Along with the medical team, NPPH Director Dr. Ryan Estrada, Municipal Health Officer of Taytay Dr. Dan Del Rosario, Country Director for Development of Operation Smile Roberto Manzano, Executive Director of Operation Smile Gian Trebol, RTNMC ComRel Department Manager Reynaldo Dela Rosa, External Affairs for CBNC and RTNMC Head Ernesto Llacuna, Program Officer of Operation Smile Tim Lu and Programs Director Christine Lu vowed to make the objective a reality.

With this, Operation Smile is set to conduct another round of free oral surgeries on November 7-12 at Southern Palawan Provincial Hospital in Brooke’s Point to cater the needs of residents in the southern part of the province.

Reynaldo dela Rosa, RTNMC’s Community Relation Manager said they are doing this as part of the two companies’ socio-economic contributions to Palawan.

The free cleft surgery, he added, was part of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of CBNC and RTNMC and not included in their Social Development Management Program (SDMP).

Operation Smile is the pioneer in cleft care in the Philippines. Since its founding in 1982, following a mission in Naga City, it has held 302 missions in 79 cities and municipalities across the country, operating on more than 29,000 Filipino children and young adults.

In Palawan, it already conducted cleft surgeries to 51 patients of Puerto Princesa in 2006 and 31 patients of Taytay in 2007.

The children’s charity organization has also expanded its presence to 80 countries in five continents holding mission in 60 of them and treating over 220,000 worldwide.

This year, Operation Smile has already conducted missions in eight sites in the Philippines benefitting 925 Filipinos with oral cleft. Five more are scheduled for the balance of the year, including the Brooke’s Point mission.

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