Twin Brothers Receive Life Changing Operations on the Same Day

Twins after

Talisay City, Philippines: Twin brothers Aerald and Aervy are now all smiles thanks to their surgery at the Young Life Foundation.



Nine-month-old twin brothers Aerald & Aervy Nierves are from Talisay City in the Philippines. Both Aerald and Aervy were born with cleft lips but their parents are unemployed and cannot afford
the surgery

The boys were brought to the Young Life Foundation in hopes of receiving cleft lip operations for free. Luckily, Smile Train was there to help and the boys received operations soon after their visit.

A Change of Heart

Six-year-old Harouna from Niger, before and after his Smile Train surgery that not only transformed his life, but his father's as well.

Six-year-old Harouna from Niger, before and after his Smile Train surgery that not only transformed his life, but his father’s as well.

Bouza, Niger—Harouna Mahamadou is a beautiful six-year-old boy from Niger who is a patient at Smile Train’s partner hospital, CURE Children’s Hospital of Niger.

When Harouna was born his father, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim, was disappointed with both his wife and son as Harouna was the only child out of nine to be born with a cleft. Mahamadou was so upset he left his family for another woman. Unfortunately soon after, Mahamadou was in a terrible accident and was bedridden for eight months. During this time his new wife left him claiming she would rather be a divorcee than a widow.

Feeling rejected, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim began to realize how his son must have felt for being ostracized for something he could not control. After apologizing to his wife and son, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim slowly regained his strength and soon after, learned about Smile Train. Harouna soon underwent a cleft operation with the love and support from his entire family.

The Mahamadou family has undergone a transformation in spirit. Now grateful for his family and son, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim told Smile Train, “What you are doing is the work of God, because you are taking care of people who really need help and who have no one else to help them.”

Lau Jean’s Story

Lau Jean, 54, before and after his Smile Train surgery.

Lau Jean, 54, before and after his Smile Train surgery.

Tokombéré, Cameroon—Rejected, insulted, despised, alienated, and thought of as a witch. Such was the fate of Mr. Lau Jean. Smile Train met Jean, a 54-year-old man, in Cameroon at Hôpital Privé Catholique de Tokombere.

Jean was born in a remote village in northern Cameroon called Glonhobe and from infancy his life was marked by rejection. He received no schooling and as a child lived in a world of ignorance, poverty, and fear of death. Because of his cleft, he was not allowed to partake in traditional ceremonies or village and family gatherings. Jean was unable to even sit with friends and family during meals.

As was the custom in his region, Jean’s marriage was arranged for him when he was a young adult. Jean’s brother represented him during the marriage ceremony though as he was unable to participate in this custom—his own wedding—because of his cleft. When Jean’s wife met him for the first time after the wedding, she was shocked, frightened, confused, and wanted out immediately. Her family could not allow her leave the marriage as the traditional rites had already been finalized. The couple went on to have five children.

Trying to provide for his family was impossible as no one wanted to do business with Jean. He barely had enough money to live, let alone receive surgery to repair his cleft. He was also very afraid he would die during the procedure. Luckily a social worker sponsored by Smile Train from Hôpital Privé Catholique de Tokombere arrived at his village and showed him pictures of patients whose clefts were repaired. They told him stories of how each patient, from infants to adults like himself, now had better lives. He then decided to go ahead with the surgery. After a short, but life-transforming surgical procedure, Jean’s whole world changed.

News about Jean’s new life had gotten to his village even before his arrival three days later. When Jean arrived home a celebration in his honor was waiting for him. His wife was once again confused, only this time, she was staring at her husband with eyes of joy and new love. For the children, it was the first time they saw their papa be like any other father in their community.

Jean is now accepted in all the ranks of his society as a man of honor, having now been given all the traditional rights and privileges. Although adjusting to his new life has at times been difficult, like trying to use his identification papers as his photo has completely changed, he is beyond happy and proud. He is very grateful to Smile Train and its worldwide partners for giving him, and so many other patients like him, a new life. Jean has now become a social recruiter visiting nearby villages as an ambassador for Smile Train educating communities about cleft and finding others in need of surgery.

How a Smile Put Him in the Driver’s Seat

Rally racing veteran Osvaldo Ary Cortiano (center), along with drivers Leo and Fred Zettel, has combined his love of racing and passion for Smile Train to help more children in need.

Rally racing veteran Osvaldo Ary Cortiano (center), along with drivers Leo and Fred Zettel, has combined his love of racing and passion for Smile Train to help more children in need.

Londrina, Brazil—Brazilian rally racing vet Ary Osvaldo Cortiano has teamed up with Smile Train Brazil to form Projeto Superação or Project Overcome, in English.

Project Overcome aims to create awareness of the free treatment provided by Smile Train for children born with cleft lip and palate, using rally racing competitions.

Ary who serves as a co-driver to brothers, Leo and Fred Zettel, did not start this project by chance. Born with a cleft lip and palate, Ary has faced many obstacles. Due to the delay of his treatment and the lack of advancement in cleft surgery at the time of his operations, Ary’s childhood was very tough.

“Throughout my life I have suffered great prejudice, which has made an impact on me. For example, I could not look at or touch a pregnant woman because it was believed that this child could born with my problem,” says Ary.

“It was a difficult childhood because nobody wanted to play with me thinking I did not belong to this world.”

One of the two Smile Train racing cars that will be driven on the Brazilian rally racing circuit.

One of the two Smile Train racing cars that will be driven on the rally racing circuit.

As a co-driver for Leo and Fred, Ary is essentially their coach, using an in-helmet intercom system, during the races, which cross a broad range of terrain and distance. This enables the driver to complete each stage as quickly as possible. The brothers will race in cars branded with the Smile Train logo.

Fond of cars from a young age, Ary took a course in auto mechanics and was hired by Fiat to be a test pilot shortly after. From there, Ary has competed in many racing circuits. Besides his role as the Zettel’s co-driver and coach, he currently provides driving lessons and pilot training for professional racing teams.

Even though he has speech problems that have left his voice nasally due to lack of intensive speech therapy, Ary’s classes in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina are extremely popular and in high demand.

It is expected that Project Overcome will enable more people suffering with unrepaired clefts to seek free cleft treatment so that fewer children have to face the same obstacles as Ary.

Cleft Surgery’s Role in Nutrition

Three-month-old Alham (left) shortly before her Smile Train surgery and five-month-old Alham two months after. Alham's story highlights the need for cleft surgery in order to obtain proper nutrition.

Three-month-old Alham (left) shortly before her Smile Train surgery and five-month-old Alham two months after. Alham’s story highlights the need for cleft surgery in order to obtain proper nutrition.

Tanga, TanzaniaIn honor of National Nutrition Month, Smile Train shares a story from Tanzania highlighting the role that timely cleft surgery plays in preventing malnutrition.

When Ahlam was born in rural Tanzania with a cleft lip and palate, her mother Salha, like so many mothers of Smile Train patients, did not know about the common birth defect. Salha’s first two children had been born without incident and perfectly healthy.

Salha and her five-month-old daughter Ahlam pose three months after Ahlam's cleft surgery. Ahlam's health and appearance have vastly improved thanks to her cleft surgery that has allowed her to eat properly.

Salha and her five-month-old daughter Ahlam pose three months after Ahlam’s cleft surgery. Ahlam’s health and appearance have vastly improved thanks to her cleft surgery that has allowed her to eat properly.

Luckily, shortly after Ahlam’s birth, the family was told about Smile Train and that the organization provided free care for thousands of children like Ahlam. The newborn girl would have to wait until she was three months old for surgery though.

During that time life for Salha was difficult. She had no problem feeding her other children, but Ahlam was different because of her cleft. Milk came out of Ahlam’s mouth and nose because she could not suck like a normal infant. With a large gap in her lip and at the roof of her mouth, feeding Ahlam was almost impossible.

Although surgery was a short time away, Salha worried her daughter would not make it. She was not steadily gaining weight and was becoming sick. Despite this, Ahlam’s surgery day came and weighed just enough to go through with surgery.Now at five months old, only two months after her cleft lip surgery, Ahlam’s appearance and health bear no resemblance to the baby girl who entered the hospital for cleft surgery. Not only does she have a new smile, but she has the chubby cheeks of other children her age. The difference is remarkable.

In four months Ahlam will undergo another surgery to correct her cleft palate, which should help her nutrition further as food can still escape through the roof of her mouth. Salha is also looking forward to her daughter’s next surgery and feels this will improve her health even more.

Salha is very grateful for the Smile Train surgery and is happy that her child will have a normal and healthy life.


To help mothers like Salha, Smile Train developed the following resource video demonstrating the best feeding methods for a child with cleft.

“Sugar,” Change and Hope for Homeless Youth

Sugar Film Movie Poster

Sadly, many children born with cleft are often abandoned by one or both parents. Children like Mili, left on a train in India are unfortunately not an anomaly.

While this story is true for a number of Smile Train patients in the developing world, the issue of abandonment and homeless can also affect children in the United States as well.

The upcoming film Sugar offers a snapshot of youth homelessness. The film follows Sugar, a young woman living on the streets of Venice Beach after her family is killed in a car accident.

She encounters an unfamiliar world that threatens the bright future of just a short time ago. Sugar’s plight is sudden and dramatic, which shows how vulnerable youth can be to homelessness.

Throughout the film, Sugar refuses social services she does not understand or trust. Her decisions are heavily influenced by her homeless peers, who have a deep distrust of support systems. The young adults face common challenges together, despite their different paths to homeless life.

As a new phenomenon, homeless youth pose several opportunities and challenges to outreach efforts. Homeless youth are the fastest growing segment of America’s street population, according to Homelessness Resource Center.  Generic views of homelessness may overlook this aspect.

Early intervention helps prevent long term dependence on social services. Before street life becomes a lifestyle, homeless youth can see they have the capacity to be self-sufficient.

Youth subjects present a chance for providers to adapt services to changing demographics. An integrated approach that identifies and treats high risk factors should be adopted. High risk factors include: youth released from juvenile corrections, mentally ill youth, and foster children who age out of the system.

Such experiences create distrust for social services that negatively affects outreach. Social providers who collaborate can offset limited budgets to prevent youth homelessness before it occurs.

With a short history, there is little data to judge the success of social programs, but much like making cleft surgery available to children in need, a sustainable approach to social services is needed.

Homeless youth face increased physical and mental risks. These range from mental illness, drug abuse, STDs and violence. Street youth are far more likely to be in the juvenile justice system. Being cited for loitering or trespassing may limit employment or school prospects, which affects self-sufficiency.

Shenae Grimes (90210), Marshall Allman and a young cast bring star power that younger audiences can relate to. Many viewers come to realize they are not altogether different from the young characters.

Cast and crew were invited to a film screening before Congress in June, 2013. The screening was a step towards giving homeless youth a voice in public policy. Sugar also earned the Film Heals Award at The Manhattan Film Festival in July 2013.


Producer, Sugar: Rotimi Rainwater 
Executive Producer, Sugar: Elliott Broidy

This Little Boy’s Smile Will Steal Your Heart

Muhammad before and after

Peshawar, Pakistan—When Muhammad Abdullah was born a little over a year ago his parents’ joy over the birth of their first child was quickly replaced by fear and worry. The newborn baby had arrived with a cleft lip and palate.

“When I was in my first pregnancy I had so many beautiful thoughts about my baby, but when I saw my little baby after birth I was really shocked because this was the first case of cleft in the family,” said Abdullah’s mother. “The second difficult thing that I faced were people’s expressions and their questions about Abdullah, like what happened to him and how it happened.”

In the region of Pakistan surrounding Peshawar, where Abdullah was born, exists many myths about children born with clefts. Many believe that if a pregnant woman works during a moon or sun eclipse that her unborn child will develop a cleft, especially if she is using a knife at the time of the eclipse. As Abdullah was the only one in his family with cleft there was little awareness about the condition to know otherwise.

As with many cleft lip and palate patients Abdullah had some initial difficulty feeding. When the family approached a doctor to help with their child’s malnourishment they were told that their son’s cleft could be repaired and were connected to a plastic surgeon. With the first hurdle of their son’s feeding cleared the new parents were ready to get the surgery required to close the gap in Abdullah’s lip and mouth. As quickly as they overcome one difficulty, they were met with another—the cost of the surgery.The young parents were stuck. Should they get the treatment their son needs, but incure an unpayable debt that would put the family in a financial crisis?

The surgeon shared the name of organization who might be able to help—Smile Train. The couple took to Facebook and were able to connect to the organization, and ultimately to the Smile Train partner hospital who would repair their son’s cleft at no cost to them.

While very nervous on the date of their son’s surgery, the couple was relieved after its completion that they and their son would no longer be the center of attention due to his birth defect. “The smiling face of my son sweeps all my worries away,” said Abdullah’s mother.

“Thanks to Smile Train and the doctors who made my son smile,” she added. “And his parents too. Now we are all happy.”