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LEHI -- Recently, the U.S. government advised tourists to cancel or postpone trips to Thailand because some areas of the country were dangerous. But a group of Utahns volunteering with the humanitarian group Operation Smile, went bravely on.
Cleft lip and cleft palate occur in approximately 1 per 500-700 births, the ratio varying considerably across geographic areas or ethnic groupings.
The volunteers work for or are associated with XanGo. They were determined to go because of a very special connection the company has to Thailand. Some who went are teenagers, and one of them formed his Eagle Scout project around the trip.
They all went ready to assist in surgeries with Operation Smile during a trip near the end of May. They decided to go to a country struggling with anti-government riots because they believed in the project and because Thailand is important to their corporation XanGo.
"The source of the main ingredient, mangosteen, actually comes from Thailand," explained Aaron Garrity, co-founder of XanGo. "What was so unique to this recent visit to Chonburi, Thailand, was that we make a full round with XanGo."
Garrity and another co-founder, Joe Morton, traveled with a teenage daughter and son. Cayden Morton and friends made dozens of blankets for the boys and girls going into surgery. The little ones on the receiving end loved them.
The blankets were Cayden's Eagle Scout Project. He says, he actually witnessed the comfort he and others brought to the children.
The Utahns brought laughter to children who don't have that in their lives. Born with cleft lips and palates, they suffer discrimination from others in their villages. Most don't have friends or go to school.
"A lot of these children, before the surgery, they are shunned from their school kids," Cayden said. "There are kids who have to have paper bags over their heads. It's just really sad. So once they come out, it's heartwarming to see them with their new smile."
The volunteers say despite the language barrier, they communicated with the children and were deeply touched.
"To be there and see those beautiful smiles truly come out with the operations, it was fantastic," Joe Morton said.
"Operation Smile" missions take place in many different countries. Young people and adults can become involved in a number of ways. CLICK HERE for more information.