Adventurers ‘running a smile’ around SA

4 August 2008

Operation Smile, the medical services organisation that provides free reconstructive facial surgery for poor children and young adults with cleft lips, is running a campaign to reach as many South African children as possible.

And extreme athletes David Grier and Braam Malherbe are assisting the cause, by “running a smile” around the southern African coastline, a journey they started at the beginning of July, with the aim of raising R1 000 per kilometre in order to collect R3.5-million by the time they are done.

In a statement last month, Operation Smile said that the 3 500km endurance undertaking was supported by four Toyota 4x4s, which are providing logistical support and being used to set up lunch stops and campsites each night.

In 2006, the two men from Cape Town were named South African Adventurers of the Year after they ran the entire length of the Great Wall of China, completing 4 218km – the equivalent of 98 marathons – in 98 days, a feat that accomplished under weather conditions ranging from well below freezing to more than 40º Celsius.

‘Nothing is impossible’

Their journey started in Namibia, and the runners will run an average of 45km per day, six days a week, for about three months, and finish at Ponta do Ouro in Mozambique.

“Nothing is Impossible,” Braam Malherbe told a group of cheering schoolchildren at the start in the Namibian frontier town of Oranjemund.

This was a “journey of hope,” added David Grier, speaking of the event known as the Cipla Spar Miles for Smiles Coastal Challenge 2008, which has been organised in association with Round Table South Africa.

In a gesture rich in symbolism, the two athletes ran across the 1km-long bridge spanning the Orange River between Oranjemund and Alexander Bay, with Namibian and South African flags flying proudly. “That was a very special experience, carrying the flags in a symbol of unity.”

Grier and Malherbe’s daily progress can be charted and donations can be made on the Miles for Smiles website.

Giving a new beginning

In a statement this week, Operation Smile South Africa regional director Natalie Miller said that the first of many missions to commence work on clefts will be in the Eastern Cape, though the dates have yet to be confirmed.

The campaign is also planning to develop a centre that those wishing to have an operation could visit, and then book themselves in, according to the available doctors’ schedules.

“[The centre] will be advertised extensively via newspapers and radio,” the statement said, adding that those wishing to be operated on would be attended to on a first come-first serve basis.

Miller said that the work done by the organisation, which provided over 9 200 free surgeries to children in 26 countries, gave children with defects like cleft lips a new beginning.

Repairable condition

Explaining the deformity, Miller said that a cleft lip was a separation of the two sides of the lip, which sometimes included the bone of the upper jaw. “A cleft palate, on the other hand, is an opening in the roof of the mouth in which the two sides of the palate did not join.”

She said that a cleft lip or palate originates some time between the sixth and eleventh week of pregnancy, when parts of the lip of palate fail to come together properly, adding that every body has cleft lips and palates while still in the womb.

“Some join together and others do not. Why some do not, we may never know,” she said. “Sometimes clefts can be found in families who have had clefts in other family members. Some clefts can be linked to certain syndromes.”

What mattered most, she said, was that they could be repaired.

SAinfo reporter

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