|Li Yapeng (center front), founder of the Smile Angels Foundation, and volunteers at the launch ceremony of the "2011 Journey of Angels". The foundation has provided free orthopedic surgery to 8,000 children with cleft lips or palates over the past five years. (Photo: China Daily)|
By Ben Yue
BEIJING, Oct. 17 (Xinhuanet) -- In one of China's most western cities, Kashgar, in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, 20 Uygur children aged from six months to 18 years with the disfigurement caused by a cleft lip were given free corrective surgery in July, thanks to the Smile Angels Foundation.
The charity specializes in paying for the procedure for impoverished families.
"I was deeply moved by these Uygur children and their parents. Some of them travel eight hours from an even more western place to Kashgar," said Li Shi, chief executive officer of the foundation. She said the foundation personnel draw pictures and play toy blocks with the children as a means of communication because they do not speak their language. "I can hardly pronounce their names in their language. I watched them entering the surgery room, each one wearing a bracelet with their name on it. I knew there would be a difference when they came out."
The surgery in Xinjiang is part of the foundation's yearly travels, called "Journey of Angels" when it started in 2007. Over the past four years, the foundation's healthcare team has traveled 40,000 kilometers and paid for 270 cleft lip and palate operations on children in Sichuan, Heilongjiang, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Tibet. The team went to the southern island province of Hainan late last month to provide 61 operations in Haikou and Qionghai city.
The Smile Angels Foundation was founded by Chinese star couple Li Yapeng and Faye Wang five years ago after their daughter was born with a cleft lip. So far it has assisted 8,000 children with the deformity.
"Compared with China's total number of sufferers of 3 million, 8,000 cases is only a small fraction," said Zheng Yongsheng, a volunteer doctor in the healthcare team who works with Beijing Tongren Hospital. "We are very happy with what we have achieved and we are going to help more people," he added.
According to Smile Angels' joint founder Li, the foundation is currently building a general pediatrics hospital in cooperation with Beijing Capital Institute of Pediatrics and Taiwan Chang-Gung Memorial Hospital, which has a well-known craniofacial center. Li said the hospital will come into operation at the end of this year.
"Our hospital plan is to take 600 free cases in the first year from poor families. At the same time, we will take high-end clients who will be charged a lot," said Li. "That's sort of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor."
Li said about 90 percent of the donations to Smile Angels came from friends but he is glad to see more people participating in the foundation's publicity-raising.
The foundation set up an arrangement with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China under which 520,000 depositors donate to the charity every month.
According to Li Shi, the foundation also organized online donations with the help of Tencent Holdings Ltd, China's largest Internet company by users. She said it has raised more than 100,000 yuan ($15,460) online and the foundation's online platform currently has 300,000 active users.
The foundation also cooperated with Jaff Jewelry, which sponsored the healthcare team's expenditure in the "2011 Journey of Angels". According to Hua Weining, from Jaff, the jewelry maker designed a series of lovers' dual rings. The income from the sale of these rings will be donated to the foundation.