Mannat Talwar may have already run a marathon for Operation Smile, but her journey with the organization is just beginning.
Just five months after taking part in the “Run the Mile” marathon, the 16-year-old from Delhi, India, was among the 200-plus participants attending Operation Smile’s International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) this July in Lima, Peru.
“I had joined Operation Smile because I wanted to help others, but Operation Smile is the one that’s actually helping me, you know, in becoming a different version of myself, a better version of myself,” Mannat told Operation Smile at the end of the weeklong conference. “And I have just learned so much. … I’m going to be setting up a club in my high school and doing whatever best I can to help the children in my country.”
Mannat did just that in October: She took her experience with Operation Smile to the next level and served as a student health-care educator during a surgical program in Bangalore.
And while she’s made strides as a volunteer for the organization, her first step with Operation Smile was literally at the Start Line of a marathon.
“I actually ran a marathon with Operation Smile where a certain amount of money was donated when everyone collectively ran a certain distance. This is how I found out about the organization,” Mannat said.
Her experience at the marathon inspired her to want to be a part of the organization, which is what brought her to ISLC. She wanted to learn as much as she could about the organization and how other young leaders like herself are making an impact in their communities.
“I have learned so much about what (students) do in their native countries, and I’m just going to steal their ideas and incorporate them into my club,” she said.
As an aspiring STEMINIST, Mannat believes that her goals align with Operation Smile. This is because technology plays a great part in everything and science is everywhere.
“I think technology is just such a great part of everything, even if we think about small devices that are necessary for conducting the surgeries for those with clefts,” said Mannat, who said she’s interested in exploring careers in engineering, architecture, business and technology.
As she looks toward the future, she reflected on her experience at ISLC: “I am going to say that the Mannat that came here (to ISLC) and the Mannat that’s going to leave is going to be very different. The Mannat that is going to leave is going to be way more informed, way more confident, willing to put myself out there, take more risks. I think I’ve just broken out of that shell I always had always been in.”
By Promise Chipeta, ISLC media intern