Vertu helps children with free cleft surgeries

'I love taking photographs of people in their own environment and capturing the interaction of friends and family,' says Mary McCartney.

A picture paints a thousand words, they say. And with that in mind, the good people at luxury mobile phone brand Vertu have set out on a mission to share a series of life-changing stories with the world through some arrestingly charming photographs.

Vertu recently launched the Constellation Smile, a unique variant of its most recent smartphone offering, the Constellation Touch, which sees the brand donating RM779 (S$313.6) from each Constellation Smile to an international charity organisation.

The charity in question, as is evident from the photos that grace these pages, is Smile Train, a worldwide organisation providing free corrective surgery for children born with cleft lips and palates. Over the past 12 years, Smile Train has provided over 725,000 free cleft surgeries, allowing children previously living in shame and isolation, to fully integrate into their community as well as receive rehabilitative care, including speech therapy.

In June, Vertu celebrated the launch of its first charity handset in swank and style, with a private viewing of photographs taken by British photographer Mary McCartney documenting the charity's incredible work, at the Louise T Blouin Institute in London.

Friends of the brand and top London society, including McCartney, jewellery designer Amber Atherton, presenter Laura Whitmore and Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, as well as a small herd of media from all around the globe, gathered for an evening of champagne and canap├ęs.

Present also was Perry Oosting, president of Vertu, who said: "We are proud and pleased to be starting out on this new journey with Smile Train, whereby we can help change the lives of the children and ensure that these children always have a voice."

Vertu has committed at least RM3.9 million to Smile Train through the sales of the Constellation Smile, and for every Constellation Smile sold, an operation to transform a child's life will be funded by Vertu. (As of last week, a total of 1,643 operations had been funded by the sale of Constellation Smile handsets).

Indeed, McCartney's pictures give one an immediate and heartfelt glimpse into the transformations that have already taken place.

Though present at the soiree, 43-year-old McCartney seemed to shy away from the media. She did, however, furnish the press with prepared answers about her work on the Vertu-Smile Train project, sharing that Vertu had approached her because they felt her candid photography would be a good fit for the project.

"I love taking photographs of people in their own environment and capturing the interaction of friends and family, along with the challenges of working abroad," McCartney said.

For the project, she travelled to Beijing, China and Volgograd, Russia to document on film the lives of a handful of children who had undergone surgery, thanks to the Vertu-Smile Train charity collaboration.

"The biggest challenge was to allow the children to relax and try to not distract them too much. The aim of this body of work was to capture images of these wonderful, brave children interacting with their friends and family; and this involved my sitting in as an observer rather than to intrude. I think this has come across in the images."

The photographer revealed that it was the first time she had worked on such a project, and because it was so uplifting to see all the good work the charity does, she would not mind repeating the experience.

"I think as the children had such successful treatments and we had a chance to meet their surgeons, it was an ultimately uplifting experience to see the post operation outcome and how this had improved those children's quality of life.

"I enjoyed meeting all the children and their families. They are so active and loving, and living such a normal life. It made me realise how important Smile Train is. As one grandfather said, Smile Train saved the little boy's life," McCartney shared, relating one example of seeing a little baby in China sipping water from a spoon and thinking that if he hadn't had the operation, it just wouldn't have been possible to do something as simple as that.

Also present at the launch of the Smile Constellation handset in London in June, was Charles B. Wang, chairman of Smile Train, who noted that partnering with a brand like Vertu raises the awareness of the work that Smile Train has done for over a decade.

"It also allows us to have greater visibility to high-net worth individuals around the world," he added. "And this continues Smile Train's efforts of seeking out best-in-class companies to be associated with and expand our presence."

Smile Train

Founded in 1999, Smile Train is the world's largest cleft charity with over 2,200 partner surgeons operating in over 1,100 partner hospitals, and has helped more children in over 80 countries - many of the world's poorest.

Clefts are a major problem in developing countries, where millions of children who are suffering with unrepaired clefts cannot eat or speak properly, and aren't allowed to attend school or hold a job.

Their clefts usually go untreated because t hey are too poor to pay for a simple surgery that has been around for decades.

Smile Train provides free cleft lip and palate surgery to children from poor families that give a child not just a new smile, but also a chance at a new life.

The organisation's vision and mission is that every child born with a cleft anywhere in the world should have the opportunity to live a full, productive life. It recently performed its 750,000th surgery. - Source:

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