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'Operation Smile' encourages women to be superheroes through volunteer work

Leaders with Operation Smile said these volunteers are a pivotal key in caring for families in other countries. Now, they want to encourage more to join.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — For the past 40 years, Operation Smile has sent female volunteers across the globe to help children and families in need. 

Now, leaders with the organization are creating more of an initiative for women to join their effort.

Operation Smile hosted a "Women Empowerment" seminar Wednesday morning. There, former Norfolk Public Schools Division principal, Barbara Higgins, spoke to the crowd over a video chat.

Higgins is in Peru with a group of women helping children there get better access to healthcare. The retired teacher of 30 years said this new mission gave her life after retirement a purpose.

"You know, it almost feels like a Wonder Woman convention here," Higgins said. "I've never been on a mission where so many like-minded people are ready to do so much for the people of Peru."

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Higgins has served on 18 different missions with Operation Smile and often worked with children. She said she is always thrilled to see how many women participate in this effort.

"The ladies get to show what they can do, and they are showing out. It's wonderful," she said.

Higgins isn't the only one inspired by this work. Hundreds of women volunteer their time with Operation Smile.

On the organization's website, Co-Founder and President Kathy Magee writes “On average, an Operation Smile medical mission team is comprised of 60 percent female volunteers. We already know that our work simply wouldn’t be possible without their talent, generosity and compassion.”

Magee's daughter and Operation Smile's Chief Strategy Officer, Kristie Porcaro says her parents inspired her to get into medicine. 

She said her father did amazing work, but seeing her mother take on such a big dedication while raising a family showed Porcaro to never give up.

"She taught us that if you believe in something, go after it," Porcaro said.

While she looked up to her mother through her years of growing up and eventually going to Villanova for her nursing degree, Porcaro learned about other women and the significant impact they make on families in other countries. 

"A lot of this is from women. We empower others, we're empathetic. We're very passionate," Porcaro said. "The more women we can train, the more we can do."

Leaders with Operation Smile say they have another initiative called 'Women in Medicine' to inspire more women to join the medical field.

You can donate or learn how to get involved by clicking here.

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