A. Cleft lips and palates are anomalies that occur during the early weeks of embryonic development. Predisposition is the main cause, and studies indicate that other contributing factors might include folic acid or vitamin B deficiency, the use of anti-seizure medications, exposure to chemicals and infectious disease. Certain environmental agents have also been cited as disruptive to the normal development of a fetus.


A. Experts say that Asians have one of the highest rates of children born with the cleft anomaly: approximately 1 in 350. In contrast, in the United States, the ratio is 1 in 850; and in California it is 1 in 550. It is impossible to accurately determine the exact number of children with unrepaired cleft lips and palates in the world, but previous AfS trips have demonstrated that there is a much greater need than we are currently able to serve.


A. Traditional international efforts to repair cleft lips and palates have consisted of small teams that perform surgical procedures to correct defects. However, the initial surgery only addresses one part of the problem. Cleft patients require ongoing treatment in the disciplines of dentistry, orthodontia, speech therapy and sometimes psychological counseling. Time and funding constraints typically make it impossible to address those needs on our short two week trips. Even if information, expertise and treatment were available, it would pose an impossible financial burden to the families of our target population, whose budgets are already strained by their basic daily needs for food and shelter.
Our multi-pronged approach and long-range model distinguish us from traditional international surgical teams in several ways:
  • To respond to the immediate need, we conduct two week surgical missions.
  • We provide advanced training for Chinese national health care providers who are dedicated to the treatment of underserved cleft lip and palate patients.
  • We are establishing treatment centers where patients can receive follow-up and ongoing care, utilizing the same treatment protocols used in the United States. Eventually, the centers will be owned and operated by the communities that they serve.


A. For the courageous families in under-served countries who decide to seek medical assistance on their own, very little is available that is financially feasible. With the average cost of surgery being half of what a typical rural family earns in a year, it is clear why they feel overwhelmed and without options.


A. Yes, since Alliance for Smiles is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, all donations are tax deductible. AfS will supply you with a tax receipt for your donation.


A. Most of our funding comes from individuals and from Rotary Clubs; we also receive many donations of equipment, supplies, and in-kind donations. Please see our Partners Page for more information. AfS pays the airfare for all medical volunteers. Non-medical volunteers pay their own way. All volunteers pay a $380 trip participation fee to cover administrative costs.


A. There are medical volunteer opportunities for Board Certified Plastic Surgeons, Anesthesiologists, Pediatricians, OR Nurses, PACU Nurses, Dentists, Orthodontists, Dental Hygienists, and Speech Pathologists. Please visit our Volunteer Page to learn more.


A. Mission Directors, Quartermasters, Translators, Photographers, Instrument Sterilizers, Medical Record Keepers, and Patient Ward Coordinators. Please visit our Volunteer Page to learn more.

Anyone is welcome to apply for a non-medical volunteer opportunity, however if a Rotary club is sponsoring a specific trip, priority will be given to Rotarians from that club. Volunteers must be in good physical health, as the days are long and demanding. Flexibility is an important quality, as the responsibilities may change during the course of the mission. We also expect the commitment of volunteers to go beyond the mission by raising public awareness and conducting fundraising programs. Spouses of volunteers may participate, as long as both spouses are volunteering as team members in specific positions. Sorry, we do not accept minors.