Manila, Philippines—Madi Bennett, a volunteer with Kids International Ministries, writes about her experience with Smile Train in the Philippines.
I started coming to the Philippines with my family when I was four and have loved it ever since. I decided to take my first semester off of college and spend that time serving God by helping impoverished children in the Philippines. One of my projects while I am here is Kids International Ministries’ feeding program. We go out into the poorest communities of Manila and feed children two times a week, Monday through Friday. We serve protein enriched rice, which is fortified with vitamins and minerals. While distributing meals, our group also provides vitamins, deworming medication, and basic medical care.
Our feeding program is what started it all with Smile Train. When I was in the Philippines in March of 2013, I came across two girls, Althea and January. They both had cleft lips. I took a few pictures of each girl and kept them in mind. When I got back home from my trip I started to research cleft palates and cleft lips. I came across Smile Train and decided to try and contact them. I expected the process of getting the girls surgery to take weeks if not months, but it didn’t! Within 48 hours of emailing Smile Train, we were put in contact with Drs. Edmund Mercado and Jennifer Deoduco-Mercado in the Philippines and had Althea and January scheduled for appointments. Both girls went in for check-ups just a few days afterwards and the next week Althea had her surgery. January had a cold so they had to wait another week to do surgery. It is amazing how fast the process went. It was absolutely a ‘God moment’ that makes you take a step back and say, “WOW!”
This past week I got the chance to meet up with both of the girls to see their new smiles. It was so exciting to see them. Althea was very shy and wouldn’t say much, but the look on her mom’s face said it all. You could feel how thankful they were for the life-changing surgery. I met January the next day and we took pictures and talked for a while. She had an appointment on Monday because she needs a second surgery to correct her cleft palate.
Since these first two girls, our organization has been on the lookout for other children with cleft lips and/or palates and have been able to refer and help more children through this process. Smile Train is truly a blessing to the world! They help so many people and it is amazing to experience it all firsthand. Thank you Smile Train for changing the lives of these little children.
You can read more about Madi’s work in the Philippines on her blog: http://eightthousandmilesaway.wordpress.com/
The entire family frantically searched for a solution to Corn Maize’s birth defect. None of them had ever heard of cleft lip and palate, let alone seen one.
One day a solution came. While she was working at a spa, Corn Maize’s aunt fortunately had a very special customer: Miss Vietnam. After listening to the aunt describe Corn Maize’s condition and the efforts the family had gone through to help the baby boy, Miss Vietnam decided to seek treatment for Corn Maize.
The beauty queen contacted many places and was given information about Smile Train. She quickly motivated Corn Maize’s parents to bring their child to Smile Train partner Vietnam Cuba Hospital located in Hanoi, letting them know their son would be in good hands and that the surgery was completely free. According to Corn Maize’s parents “the compassionate surgeons returned the face of their child to smiles and laughter.”
The Smile Train surgeons were equally impressed with the parents as the scar from Corn Maize’s surgery healed very quickly because they rigorously followed the surgeons’ directions for their son’s postoperative care.
Before his Smile Train surgery, Corn Maize’s parents did not leave the house with their new baby boy as they were worried about the reaction of strangers. Now though, they can’t stop showing their happy little boy off! Corn Maize will soon have another surgery to fix his palate, but his father’s only memory of Corn Maize’s first surgery is a photo he took with his phone right before he took his little boy to the hospital. Now the family says they enjoy limitless happiness and believe “there is nothing more beautiful than a smile that has overcome a lot of tears.”
Siliguri, India—Our Smile of the Week, Adil Raza, recieved his Smile Train surgery July 1, 2009 at Anandaloke Hospital in Siliguri, West Bengal, India.
Four years later Adil once again visited the hospital that provided his life changing surgery. His reason for doing so? He wanted a Smile Train backpack, which he saw another child in his village wearing. Adil asked why he had not gotten one after his surgery and the staff jokingly reminded him he was only infant and too small for a school bag then.
Now Adil is ready to begin school with his new backpack. His grandmother says she is very proud of him. She gladly shares that he is smart, speaks well, and gets his way in most things.
Bogotá, Colombia—In many of the countries Smile Train works there are places so remote that there are no hospitals, let alone electricity. Anyone in these areas born with cleft would most certainly never have it fixed.
Yeonilda Lopez is a little girl who has lived this reality. Born and raised in an indigenous community in Colombia called Vichada, she had lived eight years with her cleft lip and never thought anything could be done to make her look like the other children. Tucked away in a very isolated region within the Colombian national territory along the Orinoco River near Venezuela, it was by chance that Yeonilda met a gentleman who was working with her community and knew there was a solution for her cleft. He wanted very much to help.
The solution came in the form of Smile Train partner hospital, Fisulab. The team at Fisulab had already been providing free Smile Train surgeries since 2007 and had helped over 650 patients with cleft. The only problem with this plan was that Fisulab is located in Bogotá, Colombia—425 miles and a 14 hours car ride away from Yeonilda’s home. This did not deter Fisulab from helping this little girl. They were able to contact the family and completely organized all arrangements for her surgery.
While Yeonilda was excited to have her cleft fixed, she was also very nervous. She had never left her community, did not know what a city was, and only spoke in her local dialect. She was accompanied to her surgery by her father who is the chief in their community and more importantly knew Spanish. Because of this knowledge he would be able to navigate and comfort his daughter through the whirlwind trip.
Shortly after her journey Yeonilda had a successful cleft surgery. While the impact of her journey was great and she did not enjoy the cold Bogotá temperatures, she and father could not have been happier with the outcome of their trip. One week after surgery they returned home eager to show off Yeonilda’s new smile.
Tanga, Tanzania—Smile Train Africa’s Program Assistant Jane Ngige reports from the the field.
Besha Medical Centre’s Cleft Week was recently held from June 24th-29th. At the time of my visit on June 25th, six cleft patients had already been admitted at the hospital. Prior to the cleft week, awareness creation was done through radio, newspapers, and distribution of posters by way of bus transportation, hospital staff and volunteer mobilizers. A Smile Train-branded van also came in very handy in venturing into the village to create awareness about the ongoing free cleft surgery Smile Train program. Districts in Tanzania the staff visited in the region included Muheza, Lushoto, and Pangani. The staff at Besha Medical Centre are already making plans to visit Kilindi and Handeni districts which are a bit farther away.
I will call Paskali the old guy who is more of a risk taker than the younger generation from his village. I use ‘risk-taker’ very loosely – it’s more of faith and hope for a better future. Paskali is a 51-year-old gentleman that has lived with a cleft lip all his life. This was not because he did not want or seek treatment earlier. The cleft bothered him but he never had enough money to have it corrected – and later in life, he went to different clinics and was told it was too late to get treatment. In other words what they said was: “This is your life, accept it.” Good thing this did not deter him, because now he has the most beautiful smile. When word came to his village about the free cleft surgery at Besha Health Centre, six patients were identified but were skeptical about the treatment, fearing the operating table. All except him. He traveled over ten hours with a friend who, two days later, requested the surgeon to take a photo of Paskali after the surgery. He printed it, left Paskali in hospital, and traveled all the way back home to show everyone Paskali’s transformation. Needless to say, the rest of the patients hurriedly made way to the hospital for their own transformation!
Agra, India—Growing up in a Noorpur, India, a small village in the northern part of the country, 40-year-old Madhuri learned to accept her cleft lip as her parents could never afford the simple surgery that would help her. Like many people living with cleft, Madhuri lived a life deprived of self-confidence and respect. Despite this she was able to marry and have a family of her own. Her husband, working odd jobs as a manual laborer, also could not provide the funding needed to repair his wife’s cleft.
An already difficult life became even more so when her eldest son began seeking a wife. As is the custom in Madhuri’s village, when young men are ready for marriage, eligible bachelorettes visit their homes to meet the entire family. Unfortunately, those who knocked on Madhuri’s door to meet her son, refused to marry him after meeting Madhuri. No one wanted to marry into a family whose matriarch had a cleft. Seeing her son suffer the way he had made Madhuri desperate to find treatment.
Not long after, treatment found her. Two volunteers from a Smile Train partner over 150 miles away, Saraswat Hospital, were in Madhuri’s village as part of an outreach program to find more cleft patients. Madhuri described their arrival as a “God-send.” Soon after meeting the two volunteers she was on her way to Saraswat Hospital where she had her cleft repaired.
Madhuri happily reported back to our partner hospital that potential wives have begun visiting her son again. Giving her even more reasons to smile.