Ariana Dunbar serves as Operation Smile’s global partnership coordinator, working every day to support their offices around the world. Based in Virginia Beach, Operation Smile focuses on children born with cleft lip and palate in low- and middle-income countries. The nonprofit is also focused on addressing the lack of access to care for those communities. Operation Smile has programs in 35 countries and volunteers from over 60 countries.
Prior to her current role, Dunbar was the surgical program coordinator and while in that role she traveled to Ghana to lead the surgical program there. “We had 193 patients come in for screening and approximately 100 received cleft lip and palate surgery. We also provided nutritional screenings and some dental work,” Dunbar explained.
“We don’t just go to surgery and leave. We also provide comprehensive care to our patients, including psychosocial support,” she added.
Before traveling to Ghana, Dunbar was mostly involved in the logistical work of helping set up various programs in new areas, working in Virginia Beach. She was grateful for the opportunity to travel to Ghana to witness firsthand the life-changing work of Operation Smile.
“It was very emotional,” continued Dunbar, who is a newcomer to the Eagles Cheerleaders. “I didn’t fully realize the magnitude of the impact until I was there working with our local colleagues in Ghana. Being able to see all the work come together and the positive effect it had on patients and their families resonated deeply. “
Dunbar knew she wanted a career focused on helping people with minimal resources after watching Hurricane Katrina devastate Louisiana in 2005. Dunbar was in high school when Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast and after seeing the outcome, she knew is that it must be included. She volunteered with the Howell (New Jersey) Police Athletic League to help those affected by the storm. Dunbar and the group have traveled to Louisiana seven times to volunteer.
While earning a degree in international studies and political science from Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, Dunbar recalled thinking, “I really wanted to do more to help people in need. I learned that many people around the world don’t have access to safety nets like people in the United States do. I wanted to go where there were no systems or safety nets.”
After graduating, Dunbar’s desire to do more led her to join the Peace Corps. During her time volunteering, she was chosen to help launch a new program in one of Asia’s newest countries, East Timor.
“My main project was education about nutrition, hygiene and sanitation. I worked with some local colleagues and lived in the host community. We worked with families to build basic handwashing stations from readily available resources, such as bamboo and wood. worked very closely with the kids on hand washing and germ education,” said Dunbar, who spent a year volunteering.
Dunbar and local staff started the program from scratch, and she was also responsible for identifying future locations for Peace Corps volunteers and locating work that would most benefit the communities. Dunbar also learned to speak Tetum, the native language of East Timor, and served as an interpreter for English-speaking doctors on a US Navy hospital ship and Tetum-speaking patients.
Whether it’s her work with Operation Smile over the past two and a half years or her Peace Corps experience, Dunbar looks forward to making a difference in the lives of others every day.