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Students bring smiles to India through peace project

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.

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.” C of I junior Rahul Sharma and sophomore Minh “Mark” Bui plan to use 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 takes 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. “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 plan to tackle their project in three phases. The first will focus on renovating Operation Smile’s pre- and post-operation rooms to allow for a better flow and experience for patients. Secondly, the students will help 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 C of I campus upon returning to Caldwell.

Sharma, an art major from 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 [United World College] students, we are taught to be agents of change, and this is one way Mark and I have an opportunity to do that.”

The College of Idaho now has had a Davis Project for Peace funded in six consecutive years. Students previously completed projects in Malawi, Tanzania, Egypt, Ecuador and Brazil. To learn more about Davis Projects for Peace, visit More information about Operation Smile also is available at

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