A NON PROFIT ORGANIZATION TO MAKE A DREAM COME TRUE
The international association Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo offers highly specialized surgical service for the cure and treatment of facial disfigurements and burns affecting children living in developing countries, like Bangladesh, Congo and Guatemala.
Facial disfigurements are among the most common congenital malformations worldwide and affect on average one every 1000 children.
In rich countries these malformations are cured few months after birth and there many people have the impression these disfigurements do not exist anymore. In poor countries, instead, often there is a lack of competences and resources to cure facial malformations, which in fact are frequently not adequately treated.
THE FIRST EXPERIENCE IN BANGLADESH
The experience of Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo began in 1997, when a team of Italian volunteers organized a specialist surgical activity for the cure and treatment of facial disfigurements affecting children living in developing countries. Here a disfigured face, lip, or nose plunges the children affected into total segregation from society and leads to their abandon as well as to that of their mothers.
A missionary hospital in Bangladesh, managed by the Fathers of the order of Saint Xavier and by the Sisters of the Holy Child Mary, represented the first experience of volunteering for Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo. Year after year, our experiences have become annual ‘missions’. Our group of volunteers has transformed into an organized team involving surgeons, anesthesiologists, instrument nurses and nurses who work at different times of the year in the same hospital. Thus, we try and operate the greatest number possible of young patients who come from the areas nearby Khulna, the city that hosts the hospital.
In 2003, after six years of work, the group of volunteers decided to take up a legal character that allowed for the expansion of the surgical activity, but which above all could guarantee the continuity of our undertaking. Thus was born the International Association “Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo”- ONLUS (Smile Project in the World – NPO).
In 2009 the Association supported the renovation of Mymensingh Hospital. This small medical centre located in northern Bangladesh has the potential of turning into a hospital equipped for the performance of highly specialized surgical treatments, reconstructive surgeries for congenital malformations and burns, long stays in hospital. Moreover, it can be a point of reference for local medical and paramedical staff. At the moment, the yearly surgical missions in Bangladesh are five: three at Santa Maria Sick Assistance Hospital and two at Mymensingh Hospital.
ACTIVITIES IN AFRICA
In 2005, emboldened by a secure structure and by the experience accumulated over time, Progetto Sorriso widened its activity and its organisation for the sake of the children of Burundi in Bubanza Provincial Hospital, in collaboration with Fima (Italian Foundation Doctors for Africa). Like Bangladesh, also Burundi is torn by poverty and by a long civil war that renders medical assistance almost impossible and the segregation of disfigured children particularly horrible.
In 2007, the Association carried on its surgical activity at the hospital of Gitega, in the heart of the country, thus confirming the continuity of its service for Burundi and the neighbouring countries. It also opened a surgical centre realized by the Honorary Consul of Burundi in Italy, Gianni Catelli.
In 2008, on the occasion of the fourth mission of the Association in Africa, an important cooperation started with the Hôpital Général De Référence of Uvira in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was possible thanks to the development of a number of contacts with the missionaries of the order of Saint Xavier, with the Sisters “Piccole Figlie dei SS. Cuori di Gesù e Maria” of Parma and with local health operators. In this area, on the border between Congo and Burundi, not far away from Rwanda, Progetto Sorriso established the centre of the network of contacts and services built over the previous three years. The Association believes this area can be of strategic importance for the development of a specialized health centre given its ease of access for patients from other nations.
The Association also carries out social and charitable projects, besides treating facial disfigurements of children from Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi during its yearly missions. The aim is to create a long-lasting relationship to support the development of the medical and surgical competences of the hospital, in terms of exchange of know-how, medical training, and supply of instruments necessary for the development of the hospital.
As a confirmation of this common project, in 2009 the Association promoted the signing of a bilateral agreement between the University Milano-Bicocca (Italy) and the University UEA-Bukavu, south Kivu (Democratic Republic of Congo). The purpose of this agreement is to give didactic support to the Hospital of Uvira. The latter is used by the University of Bukavu as hospital of reference for the education and training of students from the Faculty of Medicine. Moreover, didactic activities will be organised in other venues and for students of other faculties from the University of Bukavo, like Economics and Agricultural Sciences.
Also in 2009, Progetto Sorriso set up an installation for the production of sodium hypochlorite, a disinfectant useful in many medical spheres, like floor disinfection, sanification of surgical environments, water purification at extremely low costs. This project is of particular relevance in a hospital, since it gives it complete autonomy in all its sanification procedures.
ACTIVITIES IN GUATEMALA
In 2008, in Guatemala, the Association perfected a project that started in 2006 by activating the surgical centre at the Hospital of Zaragoza, managed by the Somascan Sisters, in collaboration with the Association “Giuseppe e Giovanna Clerici”. The hospital will be the base for the future missions in Guatemala as well as for the training of the local medical and nursing staff.
The activity of this non-profit organization is not merely limited to surgical assistance. It also includes a number of projects meant to spread the basic principles of health education, to extend the training of local medical and paramedic training, and to widen the recognition and the assertion of the human dignity of children and their families.
Moreover, it organizes events like photographic exhibitions, theatre performances and the writing of publications to spread and sustain its medical undertaking. Therefore, experts in communication, in organization and managers have joined the medical staff in order to improve and increase the services and the potential of the Association.
The completely voluntary base of the organization allows the realization of surgical procedures at very low costs: 150 Euros per procedure. This base, besides the effort and the enthusiasm of the participants, is the real force of the Association.
Throughout these years we have tried to realize a never-ending dream. This dream starts anew every time we receive calls for help that we manage to answer and to meet. To keep on doing so, we need to gather and share energies and financial support. Above all, we need to share our dream.
The current president of Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo is Andrea Di Francesco, member and founder of the organization, and maxillofacial surgeon at Como’s Sant’Anna Hospital.