While sophomore Caroline Kupchella regularly donates to the common basket program, Homecoming Mass’s common basket sponsorship of the Smile Network was particularly special to her. Raising over $3,300, the Smile Network raised more money than that of the average common basket.
The Smile Network is a Minnesota-based organization that focuses on providing reconstructive surgery for children with cleft lips and palatets living in non-industrialized countries. “It means so much that Benilde even picked the Smile Network [for the common basket]. It’s just such an amazing cause. They genuinely do so much good,” said Kupchella.
Kupchella’s father has been on the Smile Network board since its founding in 2003, and the two of them convinced the math department to pick the organization as the common basket recipient. Kupchella formed a special bond with the charity when she spent 14 days doing service work in Kenya and Tanzania with them. “It changed my perspective on everything I do,” said Kupchella.
Kupchella, an active volunteer and member of RKVC, said that volunteering in Africa was a totally different experience than volunteering close to home. “Volunteering [in Minnesota] is great, but you don’t see the extremes like you do in Africa. You’ll see children in ditches or crying, underfed babies in magazines or on the news, but it’s nothing compared to seeing it in real life,” said Kupchella.
Kupchella had watched her father take three previous trips with the Smile Network before getting her chance to go along. The 15 year old was able to take medical records of incoming children with the help of a translator. “I was really happy I was able to help considering I don’t have a medical degree,” said Kupchella.
Despite sounding tedious, the process of taking people’s medical records and learning their personal stories quickly became emotional. “One of the most meaningful [moments] for me was meeting a family that had walked for eleven days to get to the clinic. The baby was too underweight for anesthesia, and it was the most heartbreaking thing in the world to turn them away,” said Kupchella.
Kupchella’s experience with this particular child affirms the dedication the Smile Network has for each of their patients. “Because we all fell in love [with the family], we ended up waiting twelve days and nursing the baby back to a correct weight so he could have the surgery. When we handed the baby back, I honestly couldn’t stop crying,” said Kupchella.
The Smile Network provides funds and volunteers for surgical missions in order to repair birth defects, with a focus on cleft lips, cleft palates and other conditions requiring surgical help such as burns, tumors or other genetic defects.
The surgeries are free of charge for the families, and they are available to children who would otherwise go untreated. For around $500 per surgery a child, who once would have a horribly difficult life ahead of them, is given a happier and healthier life.
In order to donate please visit their website: http://www.smilenetwork.org/Smile_Network/Home.html