Leila helps people score a smile

Rondebosch East resident and medical student Leila Amien, is scoring smiles for Operation Smile.

Leila Amien is using soccer to help people with facial deformities enjoy their first smile.

The Rondebosch East resident is organising her third Operation Smile South Africa soccer tournament at Canal Walk after raising R122 896 for the Smile Foundation last year.

The international organisation’s Operation Smile provides free surgeries to repair cleft lips, palates and other facial deformities.

Last year, the five-aside soccer tournament paid for 22 reconstructive surgeries. This year, Ms Amien wants to help more people.

“My brother is really into five-a-side soccer. He and his friends and my cousins all pay about R100 each for the court. So I thought why not pay that amount, let it go to a charity and they’re still able to play soccer. I asked a few people what they thought of a soccer tournament for charity and they were quite keen.”

“There was R7 000 prize money, and it was a 32-team tournament in 2014. We raised R85 000 from that tournament, which is 15 surgeries. After the tournament, I played a video of Operation Smile so they can see where their money is going to.

“A lot of them entered because they saw the prize money, but after they saw the video, they came to me and asked me to let them know about future charities,” said Ms Amien.

She started helping the Smile Foundation after going on her first medical mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014. There she witnessed the life-changing effects of the surgeries.

“I had done a lot of charity work before, but with Operation Smile, you saw the change immediately. There was an older man who was living with the deformity for years. In the beginning stages, he wouldn’t acknowledge me at all or look at me, and I realised he was really embarrassed by the deformity.

“I went into surgery with him, and after they handed him a mirror and he looked at himself, he started crying, and the surgeon started crying, and then we all cried.

“After the surgery, he told me how happy he was to have the deformity corrected because he was living with it for years. He said people would stare at him a lot and people feel sorry for him, which was the worst thing for him.”

“People with cleft lips struggle to eat and breathe and mothers often battle to feed their children. Their food comes out of their mouth so a lot of them are malnourished. It’s something that can be corrected but a lot of them can’t afford it,” said Ms Amien.

The Score a Smile tournament is at Five’s Futbol in Century City on Sunday April 23 at noon. There is R 8000 prize money for the winning team and R 3000 for the runner-up. Registration is R 800 for each team of five to eight players.

If you want to compete, send the name of your team, the players’ names and surnames and the captain’s contact details to leila.amien@gmail.com