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.
Argos, Indiana—Angela Resendez, a special education aide at Argos High School, writes about her students’ fundraising efforts for Smile Train.
Argos High School is located in Northern Indiana and is the epitome of a small town. Our special education class makes muffins every Wednesday in order to allow our class to go on field trips. For six weeks out of the year we sell our muffins to our elementary, junior high, and high school students, faculty, staff, and surrounding residents. All the proceeds raised during this time go to Smile Train!
This is our second year of fundraising and we raised enough money for two operations, with our class matching the amount of one operation, for a total of three operations! The Argos Dragon MoCD class will have sponsored six operations for Smile Train so far, with hopes of sponsoring more in the future! We are so proud of our students and their continued support of this truly worthy cause.
Tabanan, Indonesia — Smile Train staff member Emily Dakin recently visited Smile Train partner hospital Yayasan Senyum Bali in Indonesia. While examining best practices in administration at partner hospitals, she had the opportunity to visit patients and their families with staff members. Upon her return from Indonesia she shared her experience.
When you hear someone talk about Bali, thoughts of a tropical paradise with pristine beaches and the greenest landscapes imaginable come to mind. Every guidebook talks about how gracious, warm and religious the people are. You can’t help but think that anyone who lived in such a heavenly place would be anything but happy. And you can’t imagine that anywhere on the island doesn’t live up to this ideal.Over an hour away from luxury hotels and major tourist areas, I met one-year-old Wayan Arsa Diprasta and his family. After driving across narrow bridges, hairpin turns, and uneven roads, we finally reached his small compound within the town of Tabanan called Desa Marga Dajan Puri. In order to reach Desa I walked up a steep, dusty, dirt hill to reach a small road with about 10 modest homes built around a small shrine. Each house had just two rooms and very limited electricity. There was one outdoor toilet and faucet for the 35 residents of the compound. Their small space shared with the ducks, chickens, and emaciated dogs that freely wander around. This was not the tropical paradise that everyone envisions.
I was greeted by a small group of villagers, including Wayan’s parents, his father, Wayan Suarsa, a non-permanent day laborer, and, his mother, Ni Nyoman Sulatri, a housewife. We were immediately surprised by their happy and friendly disposition. It was such a sharp contrast to the surroundings. They insisted that we take the iced tea and boiled tubers (potato-like food) that they offered us as they told us the story of their son.
They were surprised when Wayan was born with a cleft lip and palate as no one in their family had been born with the condition before. As paying for surgery was out of the question, the family was thrilled to learn about the free treatment that their son could get through Yayasan Senyum Bali. However, since the foundation was over an hour away, Wayan’s family had to borrow a motorcycle to get to the market in town. And from there, they had to take a van to the main terminal, and then three minibuses to get to the hospital in Denpasar. But they didn’t complain. They were so grateful that their son could receive treatment – that was all that mattered to them.
I’ve never seen a baby as happy as Wayan. He was thrilled to interact with so many people and wasn’t afraid to reach out to be held by us… or to grab our sunglasses! He couldn’t stop giggling despite the hot, dusty air. And I’ll never forget how gracious and welcoming his family was. It made me realize why the Balinese people are so spiritual and devoted. It’s not just because of their amazing island, it’s because they are grateful for every gift that they are given, no matter what other struggles they have to endure.
A cleft surgery does more than save a child’s life. A cleft surgery gives them the opportunity to smile no matter what difficulties they’ll have to face in their lives. Wayan and his family have witnessed a miracle and now all of them will be smiling and laughing no matter what life brings them.
Kamuela, Hawaii—Tanya Everts, fourth grade teach at Parker School, describes a fundraiser her class recently completed for Smile Train. The group worked so hard they were able to raise more than double their goal!
Our 4th grade class read the book “Wonder” by RJ Palacio, which is about a boy who was born with severe facial deformities including a cleft palate and cleft lip. Following the story, we decided to carry out a service learning project and one of the students in the class came across an advertisement for Smile Train in a National Geographic magazine. It was instantly decided, we would raise money to help children with cleft palates. We agreed to have a used book sale at our school and donate the money we made to Smile Train. We collected books from our homes, books from other students and faculty members, and books from people in the community to sell. Students sold books for $1-$2 and made book marks that we sold for 50 cents each, but if people bought three books they received a free bookmark. People were happy with all of the books they bought and many even donated extra money for the cause. Our goal was to raise $250 to cover the surgery for one child. We ended up raising $600 which covered the cost of two surgeries and two overnight stays. After reading “Wonder” our class signed a kindness pledge where we agreed to be kind during the year 2013. We also offered people the opportunity to take the kindness pledge for 2013 during our book sale.