NYUAD sophomores Dmitriy Tretyakov and Vivek Mukherjee have embraced the spirit of charity during the holy month of Ramadan by successfully organizing a fundraising iftar for Operation Smile UAE, a non-profit organization that provides free corrective surgeries for children with cleft lip, cleft palate, and other facial deformities. More than 150 people attended the iftar at the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai on July 26, which was organized and managed entirely by the students. Guests at the event were treated to entertainment from the distinguished oud player Nina Boutchakjian and American-Iranian spiritual poet Bahareh Amidi, who wrote a special poem dedicated to the event.
This is the second Operation Smile project Tretyakov and Mukherjee have undertaken during their eight-week summer internships with Dubai-based CSR consulting firm Industry RE. In addition to the charity iftar, the students launched a "Recycle to Smile" campaign both at NYUAD and through the cooperation of organizations throughout the UAE, raising funds through the collection and recycling of electronic waste. Between the two projects, the students have raised more than AED 50,000 for the organization.
Operation Smile is dedicated to helping children with facial deformities all over the world. According to the organization, every three minutes a child is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, and due to an opening between the mouth and nasal cavity that makes feeding at a young age difficult, one in ten do not survive to see their first birthday. In developing and rural countries, a lack of awareness about the condition also means that many who do survive are often subjected to a lifetime of shame. Working with surgeons and other volunteer medical personnel from more than 60 countries worldwide, Operation Smile provides corrective surgery for these individuals through procedures that can take as little as 45 minutes and cost just AED 880.
Working with Operation Smile over the summer was a natural choice for both students who said that in addition to developing important workplace skills, they have also had the opportunity to make a direct impact in the lives of others.
Dmitriy and Vivek have been absolutely fantastic. I couldn't have wished for two more dedicated students.
"Charity work is something that I have always been keen on doing," Mukherjee said. "Since I was a child, my grandmother has been really involved in working with children and orphans, and I have volunteered to help when I can. It has always been something that I've been really close to, so when Operation Smile came to NYUAD, the opportunity really appealed to me."
"Operation Smile is great because you can really see the direct impact of your contribution," Tretyakov said. "Children with this condition can't speak, and they are often shunned from society. This is an organization that can change the lives of those affected completely. This surgery not only removes the shame that faces the child, but from his or her entire family as well."
Mukherjee, who previously interned with Operation Smile throughout the spring 2012 semester, has been volunteering with the organization since February 2011. He was also involved in starting a group on campus that supports the organization through volunteering at fundraising campaigns and holding events at NYUAD.
After surpassing their fundraising target of AED 50,000, both students will have the opportunity to attend the International Green Awards in London this November, where they will be able to interact with leaders of the world's largest NGOs and CSR delegations across the world.
Executive Director of Operation Smile UAE Morag Cromey-Hawke noted that after this experience she would be keen to work with NYUAD students again in the future. "Dmitriy and Vivek have been absolutely fantastic," she said. "They've worked so hard both independently and as a team. They've become a part of the Operation Smile family; I couldn't have wished for two more dedicated students."