Fund-raiser for cleft palate surgeries

Score a Smile soccer tournament founder, Leila Amien

Operation Smile’s annual Score a Smile soccer tournament will kick off on Saturday September 29 and the event founder hopes to exceed the success of last year’s fund-raiser.

The tournament raises funds for Operation Smile, to assist children born with cleft lip and/or cleft palate.

The global non-profit, volunteer medical services organisation provides free reconstructive surgery to children and adults with cleft lips and cleft palates in more than 50 countries.

The event, now in its third year, is the brainchild of fifth-year Stellenbosch University medical student and long-time Operation Smile volunteer, Leila Amien.

Ms Amien, from Rondebosch East, joined Operation Smile during her first year of studies in 2013 and was selected to go on a medical mission to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the same year.

“I later became the chairperson of the organisation’s Stellenbosch University branch, a position I reluctantly had to relinquish due to increased study commitments. I am, however, still involved with the activities and events of Operation Smile, restricting my involvement to raising funds and creating awareness about the plight of cleft lip and cleft palate sufferers,” she said.

Ms Amien said it was the medical aspect of the organisation that initially attracted her to the organisation, but after attending a medical mission and witnessing the work of Operation Smile, it was the humanitarian aspect that drew her in.

In the first two years of the tournament, Ms Amien raised over R200 000 for Operation Smile.

Asked why she decided on hosting a soccer tournament, she said: “I linked the idea of hosting a soccer tournament with Operation Smile for two reasons. Firstly, because I believe that sport has the ability to bring people together. Secondly, it takes 45 minutes to perform one surgery to put a smile on the face of a child with a cleft lip or cleft palate, the same time it takes for one half of a professional football match. This puts things into perspective for soccer fans,” she said.

Operation Smile South Africa manager Lauren Bright said one of the key pillars of the organisation was youth leadership.

“Leila is a shining example of this. In the first two years of the tournament, she has raised over R200 000 and changed lives and communities around the country.”

The event takes place at the Fives Futbol arena in Century City. Entry per team is R800 with a R8 000 cash prize for the winning team and R3 000 for the runners-up. The tournament will consist of 32 teams. Teams interested in participating can contact Ms Amien on leila.amien@gmail.com