A SOUTHERN Cross University student is doing her bit to put smiles on the faces of underprivileged children across the world.
Donna Franklin is a dedicated nursing professional, a graduate of a Masters of Business Administration, and a nurse unit manager.
But she spends her spare time working as a volunteer assisting in life-changing surgery for children in under-developed countries.
Ms Franklin has completed 16 Operation Smile missions to Morocco, China, Russia, the Philippines, Jordan, Vietnam, Bolivia, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Kenya over the past eight years.
Operation Smile assembles teams of volunteer medical professionals to provide free surgery to children in under-developed countries, with the mantra of creating smiles, changing lives and healing humanity.
As demanding and satisfying as the work is, Ms Franklin also gains profound joy from her volunteering work overseas.
“In many overseas communities, children with facial deformities are shunned by society,” she said.
“Surgery can change their appearance, speech and ultimately the way they interact and are accepted into their community.
“It is often life-changing for them.”
During her gruelling two week missions, Ms Franklin either works in recovery or more commonly as a clinical coordinator, running the busy surgical program for the team of plastic surgeons, anaesthetists and other allied health team members who work collaboratively to correct facial deformities such as cleft palates and cleft lips for as many as 280 children.
The surgical teams are completely self-sufficient.
“We fly in with all the equipment we need and might set up six to eight operating theatres in the local hospital,” Ms Franklin said.
“I've made friends the world over and always return from my missions reinvigorated and full of stories.”
Ms Franklin said one of the benefits of Operation Smile is that you immerse yourself in the culture and learn what life is truly like for people in other communities.
“It's my way of seeing the world, in its reality, rather than as a tourist,” she said.
“You develop a much greater appreciation of life and it always puts my own life in perspective and makes me realise that I don't need all that I have.
“It is a humbling experience and makes me very grateful for the life I have in Australia and the family and friends that I share my life with.”