Ben Read Scholar Shares Her Journey with Operation Smile
Ben Read Scholar Shares Her Journey with Operation Smile

A smile is something most people take for granted. For children born with a cleft lip, a simple smile can be impossible.

This year's Ben Read Scholar Amalie Hipp '18 joined forces with the organization Operation Smile to help children who need cleft surgery. Her mission was personal. "I was born with a cleft lip," shared Amalie. "Reading about how infants born with cleft lips have high death rates and suffer from social isolation compelled me to shed light on this disturbing plight."

Medical teams from Operation Smile travel around the world to perform cleft surgeries.

Over the summer, Amalie attended Operation Smile's International Student Leadership Conference in Rome. The experience changed her life. "Most impactful was finding 12 people who had cleft conditions. I had never met another person like me in my life," Amalie told classmates during the Ben Read Chapel Lecture. "Talking to them was beyond special. Having friends who understood the unique struggles of this condition taught me more about our community than I could have figured out myself."

Clefts occur in an estimated one out of 500-700 births. Many children in developing countries die because they can't eat properly and do not have access to good healthcare. "One 45-minute corrective surgery can have a huge impact on quality of life," said Amalie.

Before her trip to Rome, Amalie used a portion of her grant money to organize a fundraiser called "Spreading Smiles." Her goal was to educate more people about facial differences. She also raised over $6,000 to help fund surgeries through Operation Smile. "A cleft surgery costs $240, so 25 kids will now prosper and grow in areas less privileged than ours." She also created care packages for children to open during their recovery.

"Participating in the Operation Smile Leadership Conference changed my life. I went from not speaking about my condition at all, to having an impromptu Q and A session with 600 people," said Amalie.

Amalie recalled a question asked by a parent during the session. "What do you wish your parents told you that I should tell my adopted daughter with a cleft?" With tears in her eyes, Amalie replied, "I thought of my mom coaxing my shoulders back so I would stand up proudly. 'No one should have to be reminded that they deserved space. Tell her to stop apologizing, that it's not her fault that other people stare. She's beautiful. We are all beautiful.' "

"The Ben Read Scholar Award turned out to be more impactful on myself, and more importantly, the kids of Operation Smile, than I could have imagined," shared Amalie. "I have a huge appreciation now for everyone who works with non-profit organizations and for the amount of time and meticulous planning that goes into events. I am grateful for the confidence and the communication skills I developed along the way."

The Benjamin H. Read '43 Lecture & Award, established by the Class of '43 together with his family, friends, and colleagues, honors the memory of their classmate who was a statesman, peacemaker, environmentalist, and scholar of world affairs. This program supports annual seminars or lectures by distinguished figures in public affairs, as well as an award presented to an Episcopal Academy student in the V Form.