College of Idaho Students Bring Smiles to India through Davis Project for Peace

Each year in India, thousands of babies are born with cleft lip and palate deformities – conditions that can lead not only to health and communication problems, but also to negative social stigmas.

Rahul Sharma and Bui “Mark” Minh (left) with supplies purchased that will make 1,000 supply bags for distribution as part of their education program.

Rahul Sharma and Bui “Mark” Minh (left) with supplies purchased that will make 1,000 supply bags for distribution as part of their education program.

This summer, two College of Idaho students from Asia are seeking to make a difference on their home continent through their Davis Project for Peace, “Bringing Smiles Where They Never Were: Combating Facial Deformities and Affixed Social Superstitions though Education.” College of Idaho junior Rahul Sharma and sophomore Minh “Mark” Bui are using their $10,000 Davis grant to provide logistical support and upgrade services for Operation Smile, an international children’s medical charity focused on eradicating lip and palate deformities. The project is currently taking place during the month of June in the Assam state of India.

Bui, a political economy major from Vietnam, is excited to complete the Davis Project for Peace through Operation Smile, an organization he has volunteered for regularly over the past five years.

“Operation Smile has taught me a lot, so this is a huge opportunity for me to give back,” Bui said before he left for India. “Palate deformities are a lot more common than people realize. The surgery is relatively cheap here in America, but for people in third-world countries, it’s a lot of money. And it’s a huge deal over there because deformities carry a social stigma, so these children aren’t able to integrate into society.”

Sharma and Bui are tackling their project in three phases. The first focuses on renovating Operation Smile’s pre- and post-operation rooms to allow for a better flow and experience for patients. The students then organize and train a team of volunteers to accompany patients during their procedures and educate the surrounding villages about facial deformities and dental hygiene. The final phase focuses on public education and will include visiting local schools, providing villagers with dental supply kits, distributing information about Operation Smile to local clinics, conducting surveys to find potential Operation Smile patients and educating the College of Idaho campus upon returning to Caldwell, Idaho.

Sharma, an art major from the Kashmir region of India, looks forward to making a difference for children in his homeland.

“Mark and I have been working with Operation Smile for a while, and it’s definitely a worthy cause,” Sharma said. “It’s great because fixing these deformities is a relatively small thing, but it instantly makes a huge difference for children who couldn’t even drink milk before. As students, we are taught to be agents of change, and this is one way Mark and I have an opportunity to do that.”

A young patient at Operation Smile from Guwahati, India.

A young patient at Operation Smile from Guwahati, India.

Asian Studies professor Robert Dayley, who also serves as Davis Advisor, says he is pleased to see students applying their liberal arts education in practice. “Rahul and Mark are not just visiting an area and gawking at cultural sites,” he said. “They are making a difference and helping people like me who were born with a facial deformity.” Dayley said he had three surgeries as a child to repair his own cleft lip. “Educating communities in Assam about facial deformities can help these children adjust socially. Rahul and Mark are doing these children a wonderful service with lifelong results.”

Follow Rahul and Mark on their blog at www.collegeofidaho.edu/blog/student-experience. More information about Operation Smile also is available at www.operationsmile.org. To learn more about Davis Projects for Peace, visit www.davisprojectsforpeace.org.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 11 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.