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The LDS Church has given $927,400 to Operation Smile, an international children's medical charity.
Though the Utah-based faith has been a longtime supporter of the organization, this is the church's largest gift to it so far.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' lump sum donation will support 11 medical missions to provide reconstructive surgery for 3,864 children in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt and Jordan through 2011, the charity announced.
Operation Smile, headquartered in Norfolk, Va., estimates that in those four countries alone, more than 11,600 children are born each year with a cleft condition. One in 10 children born with a cleft palette will die before his or her first birthday. Many survivors are unable to eat or speak properly, and they often are shunned.
"A lot of these kids become outcasts in their communities," Fred Riley, manager of special projects for LDS Humanitarian Services, said Thursday. "A simple operation changes their whole lives and gives them hope for a better future."
The LDS Church has contributed regularly to Operation Smile through the years, for a total of about $250,000, Riley said, and many Mormon doctors and nurses have volunteered time and services to assist in the surgeries. This year LDS leaders decided "to formalize the relationship," he said, by giving more to help the charity "broaden its reach and build an infrastructure in the medical community of those nations so that they can become self-reliant."
Plus, he said, there are Mormons in those countries who can serve as interpreters with patients and doctors or help fix up a hospital or medical unit.
"We saw an urgent need and projects set up that weren't funded for this year," Riley said.
The charity thanked the LDS Church on Wednesday.
"There are not enough words to express how deeply grateful we are for this generous donation," William Magee, co-founder and CEO of Operation Smile, said in a news release. "When you see the hope and despair in these children's eyes, and see that same anguish mirrored in their parents' eyes, you truly understand the magnitude of what a gift like this means."
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For more information visit operationsmile.org.