Alliance Highlights – Summer 2020

Alliance Highlights – Summer 2020

2020 has been full of unexpected global challenges, and Alliance for Smiles has had to quickly adapt to the changing times. From hosting our first-ever online gala to working with global partners to continue our crucial work online, the AfS team and community have stepped up to overcome each new obstacle. As we approach Cleft Awareness Month (July), we’re excited to share some updates.  

AfS in the Time of COVID-19

Our recently updated mission statement reads: to forever improve the lives of children and communities impacted by cleft by providing free comprehensive treatment, while building local capacity for long-term care. Achieving that mission involves any of three primary objectives: conducting surgical missions to provide free surgeries, providing advanced training programs for local medical teams, and establishing Treatment Centers to equip communities to sustainably support patients long-term. 

COVID-19 has meant major changes for AfS, including the postponement of missions until we can safely gather volunteers, children, and families. That has driven us to focus our energy on how to best achieve our mission given current circumstances, by providing training virtually (aka online) to our medical partners and continuing to lay the foundation for future Treatment Center development.

As a first step in this Virtual Education Project we recruited leads in all the relevant fields (surgery, anesthesiology, nursing, speech pathology, dental hygiene, and more) and reached out to our partners around the world to determine which locations would benefit most from advanced training programs, mentorship, and consultation on difficult cleft cases via online platforms. We continue to hear back from our partners with enthusiasm and interest, and we’re excited to announce that we will initially be piloting this project with teams in Bangladesh and Myanmar. Egypt and Honduras are also potential pilot locations.

We are conducting extensive needs assessments to determine the topics to be covered and formats to use. Our offerings will be a tailored combination of resources (including informational videos and instructional slide decks) and live video calls with our highly trained medical volunteers, who will conduct trainings, answer questions, and consult on difficult cases. 

As we build a comprehensive library of instructional resources and roll out the training program, we see great potential to continue this program after international travel resumes. This would not only help to build a strong foundation of knowledge before an AfS mission, but it would also help establish deeper trust and connection between teams.

Our 2019 Nurse Training Seminar in Aswan, Egypt

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says “when the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills”. We’re building a pretty impressive “windmill” through AfS – creating something new, adapting to the needs and constraints of the times and our partners, and harnessing this energy and innovation to become something more and better than we have ever been before. To use another wind-related metaphor, we could easily have gotten lost and blown off course, but instead, we adjusted the sails so that we can still reach those who need us most!

What You Can Do for Cleft Awareness Month

July is Cleft Awareness Month, and we are incredibly excited to invite you to join us in utilizing this opportunity to raise awareness and funds to forever improve the lives of children and communities impacted by cleft!

You have shown us that the AfS community is incredibly creative, innovative, passionate, and generous in the ways you share about cleft with your networks and raise funds to support these crucial, life-changing medical missions. Given the current state of the world, most of these efforts may need to be online, but not to worry – there are easy ways you can take action for Cleft Awareness Month:

Host an online fundraiser:

One of the easiest ways to participate is to host an online fundraising campaign.

  • Choose your platform: Facebook Fundraisers and GoFundMe Campaigns, are two most popular, but there are many more you can choose from.
  • Set a goal: How much do you want to raise? Some people aim low to feel confident they will meet the goal, while others aim higher tohave something to strive toward.
  • Share your motivation or story: Sharing how you feel connected to the cause, organization, or a specific child’s story can help others relate to why this is important, life-changing work. Here’s a guide from GoFundMe on writing a captivating campaign story. Also, here’s an image you can use and two recent videos: The Greatest Gift & Transforming Lives, One Smile at a Time.
  • Share, share, share: Share your campaign, whether via social media, email, local media, or numerous other means.
  • Thank & celebrate: Personalized thank you posts on social media or thank you letters let donors know how grateful you are and keep up the campaign’s momentum and give you opportunities to celebrate each milestone you hit!

Host an event:

How you host an event will depend on what rules are in place in your area and the comfort level/safety of attendees. We recommend hosting online events, but we’ll include in-person tips as well. Whatever you choose to do, we have tools for you, including a slideshow and videos on our website. Reach out to us at if you would like an AfS speaker to join!

Online Event:
  • Choose your platform. Zoom works well, as does Google Hangouts, Skype, Facetime, even Facebook Messenger. Some platforms allow you to share a background image everyone can use to give the illusion that you’re in the same place.
  • Choose how people can contribute. Will you charge a flat fee for entry to the event that you will donate or will you make a pitch and encourage people to give what feels good to them?
  • Select the theme/plan for your event. Here are a few examples:
    1. A “Virtual Dinner Party (or other meal) can be as fancy or casual as you like. Guests can make their own meal, order the same type of food, or you can organize for the same meal to be delivered to all guests.
    2. An easier version of this would be a Virtual Happy Hour or  coordinated virtual wine tasting.
    3. An online game night, could have guests all logging into an online version of“Settlers of Catan” (called Colonist; it’s free), or you can hire companies to guide you through something like a “Zoom Escape Room” or online “Murder Mystery” .
    4. Consider including additional fundraising elements from having raffle prizes, auction items, a bake sale, a trivia night, or a tournament.
In-person Event:
  • The suggestions for online events above can be modified to accommodate in-person events, including dinner parties, happy hours, game nights, raffles, and bake sales. AfS supporters have hosted inspiring events, like Tina Fischlin’s Dining for Smiles BBQ.
  • You will need to choose a venue. Choose where it is easiest and safest to host your event, whether at your home, an event space, a restaurant, or an outdoor space.
After your Event:

Don’t forget to announce the total raised and say a huge thank you to all your donors!

Engage your clubs, class, or workplace for Cleft Awareness Month:

Whether you’re part of a Rotary or Kiwanis club, a school group, or a supportive workplace team, share about Cleft Awareness Month and Alliance for Smiles to see if your entire group might set a fundraising goal that you can pursue together!

If you are a member of a Rotary club, you’re in good company and in luck, as AfS was founded by Rotarians and we just launched a video  where many of our Rotarian volunteers share about how important Rotary is vital to supporting this work. If you would like a speaker from Alliance for Smiles, who is also a Rotarian, to speak with your club, just contact us at

If those ideas don’t fit, get creative and find what works for you. Here in San Francisco, where AfS headquarters is located, they are even lighting up City Hall in purple in honor of Cleft Awareness Month on July 17th at sundown. If you live in the area, please feel free to check it out!

We wish you a wonderful and inspiring Cleft Awareness Month, where we hope you will take the opportunity to take action to change the world for children everywhere and also take the time to reflect on the impact you are making as a part of this community.