Beijing, China — we recently received a message from our first patient, Wang Li, and a cute picture of her son. Since her free cleft lip surgery so many years ago, Wang Li has grown up to marry the love of her life and, last November, welcomed their son, Wang Xiao Yu, into the world.
Thank you very much!! It is your kindness and love that gave me the chance to get such a happy family!! I am so lucky to be one of the patients Smile Train helped and receive good treatment, it brings a smile to my face! I believe if everyone contributes a piece of love, the world will get better for the future, and I believe that Smile Train will bring smiles to everywhere in the world!!
— Wang Li
Maharashtra, India — For many of our donors in the United States $250 is a generous amount of money. But in the United States, it is often difficult to realize just what $250 can do. What the cost of just a cup of coffee can mean when that’s all a family makes per day. When a cup of coffee can cost $5 in a U.S. city, just a month of morning coffee can give a child a world away a brand new smile and a brand new life.
For Shubhangi who lives in Maharashtra, India, a smile is worth so much more than a few cups of coffee. Shubhangi’s father works at a grocery store and is lucky to earn 150 rupees a day. That’s only $2.78! Shubhangi’s family could never have dreamed of saving enough money to pay for a cleft surgery.
Shubhangi, a bright nine-year-old girl, longed to be like all the other children in her neighborhood. But throughout her entire life, she was never allowed to be like the other children because her school district refused to allow her to attend school. So instead, Shubhangi, being the bright, young girl she is, persisted. She did her best to learn what she could and studied the books that her seven-year-old brother brought home.
Luckily, Shubhangi’s father came across a local doctor who had heard of Smile Train, and referred him to our partner, Sanveevani Criticare & Research Centre in Naski, India. Thanks to Smile Train, and the doctors who work to spread the word in their communities, Shubhangi was able to receive free cleft surgery. Three months later, we were lucky to get a glimpse of her new smile and the absolute joy on her face when she let us know that she would finally be allowed to go to school!
Shubhangi’s new smile is truly a shining example of what a dollar can do a world away and how easy it is to give a young girl a new life and future!
Columbia, SC — Thomas Cronin, Physical Education Teacher, Pleasant Hill Elementary and Mini Marathon Event Director shares how his students are creating smiles around the world. Our deepest thanks to Tom and all of the students, staff, and faculty of Pleasant Hill Elementary and everyone involved!
I was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Fortunately, I was born in the United States and had surgeries to repair my cleft. There are more than one million children in developing countries who do not have this opportunity. They grow up with an unrepaired cleft and live a life of shame. They are abandoned, do not go to school or get married. Smile Train is a charity that provides free cleft surgery for these children.
Over the last 9 years, my wife and I have made personal donations to Smile Train, but I wanted to do more. I immediately thought of my role as a physical education teacher. In 2007, The Pleasant Hill Elementary School Mini Marathon was created to help Smile Train and increase the physical fitness level of my students.
The mini marathon starts several weeks before the actual run and walk. The students view videos and pictures about Smile Train during physical education class prior to the run/walk. The knowledge about Smile Train and clefts helps the students understand why they are running and walking and who they are raising money to help. All students receive a Smile Train bracelet, and many students earn a Pleasant Hill Elementary mini marathon t-shirt. Our 5th grade art students contribute by making event posters.
On the day of the event each grade level (Kindergarten through Fifth grade) runs and walks for 30 minutes on the school’s outdoor track. By the end of the day over 900 students run and walk in support of Smile Train. The students are able to complete the mini marathon by using the lessons of running pace, running stride and proper breathing technique taught during physical education class. Some older and advanced students run the whole 30 minutes and complete almost 3 miles, while some of the younger students alternate between running and walking. This pattern enables them to complete 1.5 miles.
The Mini Marathon is directly related to Lexington School District One’s LexLives strategic goal. This is related to improving the health and wellness of its students by increasing fitness and decreasing obesity. Families and the community are also involved.Families walk and run with their children. Local business partners sponsor the event and also participate in the run and walk.
In the 7 years this event has been held, the students at Pleasant Hill Elementary have been able to fund 376 cleft lip and palate operations for Smile Train.
The Mini Marathon does several things. It gets kids more physically fit through the running and walking and teaches students about helping others and community service. It gives kids the opportunity that I had 41 years ago — to have their cleft lip and palate repaired and live a productive life.
If you would like to get your school involved with Smile Train, please contact us at email@example.com .
Bahar Dar, Ethiopia — Smile Train’s Program Manager of East Africa, Dr. Esther Njoroge, reports from the field.
I always enjoy visiting Ethiopia and for selfish reasons, it’s the only time I can claim to be eight years younger and technically I would not be lying. The reason is they follow the Orthodox calendar, and therefore today is 17/8/2005, brilliant, no?
Today, I got to spend my time not boasting of my young age, but with a special group of people, cleft lip and palate patients from the Amhara region and beyond. It was the second day of a cleft week at Gamby Hospital, Bahar Dar. A week when the hospital dedicates its operating rooms for cleft surgery. The week is preceded by a month of intense awareness creation and mobilization. By today morning, 40 patients (and their parents or guardians) had gathered at the hospital, and we expect more as the week wears on. When the surgeons and I walked in, we were greeted by a multitude of eager, hopeful faces. They had traveled long distances; some had walked for two days to get to the point of public transport.
And so I spent the day talking to them and listening to their varied stories as well as sharing in their hopes and dreams. The best part about a day like today, is knowing deep down that we have changed people’s lives, possibly altered their destiny.
Meet Adenew, a shy 15 year old boy who is in 7th grade. He comes from Eastern Belessa, some 240km or so from Bahar Dar. He enjoys playing football and volleyball with his friends, and he dreams of being a private investor one day. A good choice of career, I tell him, private business is booming in Ethiopia right now and possibly in the foreseeable future. I ask him why he wants his cleft repaired, why he has travelled so far. “Though am not stigmatized because of my cleft, I feel bad living with a cleft, and I want to be like normal people” he replies and goes back to staring at the same spot on the floor. This is a survival mechanism for him, I realize, for as long as he is looking at that spot, one cannot immediately tell he has a cleft! Adenew finally gets his turn at the close of the day, and the smile on his face and eyes after I showed him his ‘after surgery’ photo spoke volumes!
The young lady at the beginning of this blog is Tesfaye Manaye, who is my daughter’s age, three going on sixteen. She is the most adorable kid you can imagine and she had the cutest shoes. A last born in a family of three, she is the only one with a cleft in her entire family. Her mother traveled more than 280km, to give her a chance at a life without ridicule. Am sure that’s just what they received today, and after Tesfaye wakes up, the swelling goes down and the healing takes place, the smile on her beautiful face will be precious to see.
And the triple bounty went to Mr. Siraw Mengest from Lalibela. At 59 years of age, he has lived with a cleft lip all his life. And what is worse, his two grandchildren, Mamite, 10 and Tekeba, 12 were born with a cleft as well. Today, a journey of two days on foot and 200km by bus coupled with all his hope and faith will bear fruit. Their clefts will be repaired, their lives changed forever, just by a smile.
Thank you Smile Train, on behalf of all these people for providing the fuel that keeps this train moving.
Shenyang, China — As I usually do each day, I was at the hospital waiting for cleft patients to come for our Smile Train program. A couple wearing simple clothing walked in with a 12-year-old girl following behind them with her head bent down and looking very embarrassed — the girl had a cleft.
The couple had come on a special trip from afar when they heard that there was even such a program being offered like Smile Train. After making the necessary arrangements for the girl’s surgery, the father pulled me aside and whispered “Doctor, is Smile Train really free? Is that true?” I smiled and said, “Don’t worry, it’s really free.” The father felt relieved after he heard that. Finally his face showed a trace of a smile.
My team examined the girl to identify if she was in good physical condition to undergo surgery. Then the team of physicians formulated a detailed operation scheme. Soon the girl, accompanied by her parents, was sent from the examination room into the operating room. In order to shorten operation time and reduce the risk of injury, I was absorbed in doing the operation carefully. The assistant surgeon and nurse worked with me closely. The operation was very smooth and completed according to the preoperative discussion program. After she awoke from anesthesia, I took the girl out of the operation room. Right away, her parents rushed to their child. I can still clearly see the tears in their eyes and I know they were tears of joy.
After the surgery, our doctors made visits to the recovery ward to see the girl’s condition and patiently answered all kinds of questions from the parents. Being only 12 years old, their daughter could not stand pain and sometimes would not cooperate with us. She cried when we would change the dressing (bandages) on her lip so we had to think of a way to distract her while at the same time quickly and gently handling the operation wound. Our team was always bathed in sweat after the end of her dressing changes, but no one ever complained about helping this patient.
After being under the great care of doctors and nurses the girl was finally ready to be discharged. With a grateful smile the couple and their daughter said goodbye to us. They kept saying, “Thank you! Thank you for Smile Train!” in an excited voice. Whenever we are able to see Smile Train make a child’s future better, one after another, we also feel very pleased.
Seattle, WA — On April 18th, the 3rd and 5th grade students at St. Mark Catholic School gathered together for a very special event — they had a live Skype conference with former Smile Train patients in Mexico City!
The students at St. Mark Catholic School are no strangers to giving back. In 2011, led by teacher Mrs. Kimm Conroy, they held a community wide fundraiser that raised enough money to fund nine cleft surgeries. One of the events was a school-wide contest called Spare Your Change for Smile Train where each grade level was challenged to raise the most money.
This year’s 3rd grade class is also collecting funds for Smile Train. Their donations will be restricted to the speech therapy program in Mexico City that they Skyped with, Hablarte y Integrarte.
The video connection gave the students the opportunity to see the impact of their donation firsthand. After students in Seattle and Mexico introduced themselves to one another, the cleft choir at Hablarte y Integrarte performed a song for the group! As Monica Dominguez, Smile Train Country Manager in Mexico said, “The cleft choir in Hablarte e Integrate in Mexico City, sang with passion and gratitude in a fun Skype call.”
Would you like to see the impact of your donations first hand via video chat? Let us know! We would be happy to arrange a connection with one of our partners.
Thank you to the students, faculty and staff of St. Mark’s for their support and an extra thanks to Don Trujillo for setting up the AV equipment!