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Bringing a smile to Chile’s poor

04 Jun 2014

Two Manchester alumni mobilise dentists to treat under-privileged patients

Smiles Foundation

Two University alumni are bringing a smile to under-privileged people in their home country of Chile.

Raúl Valdivia Fernández, who did his MSc in Social Change here in Manchester, is Executive Director of non-government organisation Fundacion Sonrisas (the Smiles Foundation) to promote better dental care for under-privileged groups.

In Chile, more than 25% of the population cannot smile properly due to their poor oral health, the lack of access to dentistry in the public health system and also the high cost of private dental treatments.

The Smiles Foundation was founded by Francisco Ortuzar, who did an MA in Social Anthropology here in 2011.

It mobilizes and connects resources from professionals, companies and the community, asking them to give for free what they do the best. For example, more than 80 dentists see 12 deprived patients a year and provide them with the dental treatment they need.

Other volunteering professionals include journalists, sociologists, engineers and others, working with the Smiles Foundation from different perspectives to promote, as Raul puts it, “the right of every Chilean to smile with dignity and joy”.

Raul said: “As a sociologist I´ve become fascinated with the transformative power of smiling.

“It is crucial for social relations, employability, productivity, self-esteem, happiness, love and almost every aspect of social and personal life. In fact, we are highly convinced that a new smile can be a powerful tool to overcome poverty.

“For these reasons, we founded the Smiles Foundation with the vision of transforming this reality through a ‘business model’ which is very socially innovative and it is based on the concept of social capital.”

Raul was recently picked as one of the 100 Chile´s young leaders in an award sponsored by the Universidad Adolfo Ibañez & El Mercurio newspaper.

His former tutor Nick Shryane, at the Institute for Social Change, said: “The Smiles Foundation is really putting into practice the interdisciplinary aims of the MSc Raul did in Manchester.

“The roots of the foundation are firmly embedded in Manchester, because as well as having one Manchester graduate as the Executive Director, it has another as its founder. “