Jasmine Wang: Seeing is Believing

Jwangheader.jpgJasmine Wang, Associate, Marketing and Communications, shares how her feelings about the Power Of A Smile have changed since returning from visiting local Smile Train medical partners in Indonesia.

I’ve been a Smile Train supporter for as long as I can remember and I’ve had the privilege to work as part of Smile Train’s marketing department for almost two years — I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Power Of A Smile. But after visiting Smile Train partners in Indonesia, I know that posting a photo on social media isn’t the same as seeing the joy in a mother’s eyes firsthand. Reading and sharing patient stories pales in comparison to actually holding a child in your arms whose entire life has changed thanks to a simple cleft surgery.

Lila 300.jpgMy journey started with Smile Train partner hospital RS. Permata Sari in Semarang where I met several families who had traveled from all over the region for cleft surgery. One of the patients was a 6-year-old girl named Lila. Lila was born with a cleft lip and palate, but fortunately found Smile Train and was able to received surgery as a baby. You can now barely tell that she has ever had a cleft. Lila also was kind enough to sing a song for us, and she has a beautiful singing voice, and the confidence to match. Although I was nervous before I got to the hospital, seeing how happy and brave Lila was singing in front of a room full of people made me instantly feel more at ease.

Smile House 300.jpgA few days later, I flew to Bali to visit The Smile House. The Smile House is an amazing organization that provides cleft patients waiting for and recovering from surgery a free place to stay, speech therapy classes, and feeding trainings. I met a 24-year-old man who was about to receive his first cleft lip surgery the next day. He lived in a very remote village and said that he had no idea that cleft surgery even existed. It’s sad that he felt like an outsider for so long, but he was so excited about returning to his village with a new smile and a brand new start.

I could go on and on, about all of the amazing people that I met, but the moral would remain the same — a new smile is a powerful thing. A new smile helped to give Lila the confidence to sing, and all of the children from The Smile House a chance to stop hiding in isolation. Cleft repair surgery, and the new smiles it gives, allows children to live the full lives that they want and deserve.

Lynda Wilson: A Lifetime of Giving Smiles

candle header 2In early February, Smile Train supporter Lynda Wilson peacefully passed away surrounded by her loved ones. Lynda’s son Stuart shares, in his own words, some of the things he learned about his mother in her last days.

When my mum knew she wasn’t going to be with us for much longer, her strength and character showed through in many ways – it was very inspiring. One of her wishes was for her friends and family to give to a cause that would help others after she was gone – she was always thinking of others before herself.

As a nursery nurse, mum devoted her working life to helping children. She taught them to read, spell, add up, and taught them how to overcome challenges in their lives. She made them smile with her kindness and care.

One story she shared with me was from when she was just 16-years-old. At the time, she was a nursey nurse trainee and she started looking after a baby with a cleft palate. The baby had been abandoned at the hospital by her mother, but luckily the child’s father stepped in and committed himself to looking after his daughter. When the father had to work, he brought his newborn to mum’s nursey and mum cared for her.

My mum described the baby as having the most beautiful eyes. It was clear that even 50 years later the unfairness of the child’s abandonment was still something that made mum sad. She wanted friends and family to donate to a charity that would help treat children born with clefts. No child should have to suffer through this correctable condition or, even worse, be abandoned or neglected by their parents and society.

Mum’s kindness has already helped to raise more than £600 for Smile Train, and I hope that we will add even more smiles to that total.

If you would like to donate to Lynda’s memory visit Justgiving.com/LyndasSmiles/

A Father’s Letter of Thanks: Muskan’s Smile

Muskan header.jpgMy wife and I were so happy when we saw our newborn daughter’s beautiful face for the very first time that we decided to name her Muskan (the Urdu word for smile). However, our joy was short-lived when the doctor informed us that she had been born with cleft palate. At the time, we had no idea whether a cleft palate could be cured or even if our daughter would be able to survive with this defect in her mouth.

Only the parents of a child with a cleft palate could understand the state of helplessness and distress when your child is unable to take-in proper nutrition. She would choke when using a bottle, even after we started using a specially designed nipple– her choking problem only increased as she grew older and we started feeding her food with spoon.

Muskan’s cleft palate was the cause of many sleepless nights and it flooded our minds with worries about her future. I thought, “Would she ever be able to eat, breathe, and speak like other children?” Finally our worries we were eased when a relative told us about a man who had performed a free cleft palate surgery for their daughter — Smile Train partner surgeon Dr. Tahmeed Ullah.

During our first visit to Dr. Ullah’s clinic, we saw dozens of other children with similar problems. Some of them had already had their transformational cleft surgeries, while others were waiting for the miracle to happen. I felt that we were not alone in our mixed feelings of hope and distress when I looked at the other parent’s faces. When Dr. Ullah, told us that Muskan was accepted for Smile Train sponsored surgery, it revived our hope for our daughter’s future.

On the day of the surgery, my wife was much more composeMuskan cropd and confident than me. All day she reassured me that Muskan was in good hands with Dr. Ullah and Smile Train. She was correct in her trust — Dr. Ullah brought our child back to us safe and sound. Our nightmare was over.

Muskan has transformed from a journey of pain and agony to a complete child with a complete smile. She can now eat without difficulty. It may seem like a small thing but it is wonderful to have her eat the same meal as the rest of the family. Thank you very much Smile Train — life is much easier now that Muskan has a perfect smile.

By Javeed

Patricia Simon: Cleft Patient to Smile Maker

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Former cleft patient and long-time Smile Train supporter Patricia Simon explains why she’s dedicated her life to being an advocate for those affected by cleft lip and palate.

My name is Patricia Simon and I was born with a cleft lip and palate. I had very supportive parents who were able to provide me with cleft surgeries and speech therapy and I could always count on the love and support of my four siblings and friends. I was fortunate, but my family and I also had to traverse a great deal of challenges in my road to cleft repair, which has led me to become an advocate for others affected by cleft lip and palate.

As a registered nurse, I get to work hands-on with people facing health issues in my community. Over the years, I’ve been able to care for babies born with cleft lips and palates and provide support to their families. I’ve found that it’s very comforting for parents to get advice from a medical professional who faced the same situation. My goal is to lead my patients to appropriate care so they can come out of it with a positive and optimistic outlook.

I know how frustrating ongoing medical care can be. Over the last two years, I underwent multiple surgeries to build bone for my palate in order to accommodate dental implants for my two front teeth.

Going through medical care as an adult was one of the many reasons I decided to start my own website called Smile with Simon and my blog Simon Says Smile Today. These sites offers support, information, and an opportunity to network with others affected by cleft lip and palate and other craniofacial conditions. I hope that others will benefit from my knowledge and children can find a space to navigate through difficult social situations, such as bullying.

Birds 300I’m also trying my hand at writing a children’s book about cleft lip and palate. The story is about Simon, a cardinal born with a separation in his beak. It will be a story of love, acceptance, and kindness. It will speak to the importance that a smile has on others. Smiling is so important for the soul!

What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made in the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead -Nelson Mandela

Peter James ‘Bringing the World Together’

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Peter James, of Market Harborough, plans to launch a local festival to raise money for Smile Train, following his ‘life-changing’ trip to Vientiane, Lao PDR.

After supporting Smile Train for several years, Peter James decided to visit Smile Train partner Children’s Hospital located in Vientiane, Lao PDR, so that he could witness the impact his donations were making in the lives of local children.

During his time at the hospital, Peter met with Smile Train Country Manager, Dzung T. Nguyen, and Senior Surgeon, Dr Chay Phachanh, who educated him on the process of sourcing and treating children with clefts in the region.

Peter 300 2“The trip was an unforgettable and life-changing experience — It completely opened my eyes to how vital cleft surgery is for children living in Lao PDR and similar parts of the world. I learnt that children with clefts are often hidden away from their community, so the first – and most difficult – task for Smile Train is to reach out and find them,” said Peter.

Peter continued, “Smile Train is such a great charity because the surgery they help fund for children is totally life-changing. The opportunity to have a procedure to treat their cleft is a gift and can have a huge positive impact on the whole family — it’s like a rebirth for the family.”

Following his trip, Peter has decided to launch an internationally-themed festival called “East West Fest- Bringing the World Together” in Market Harborough and Bournemouth to raise additional funds for Smile Train. The festival will invite local residents to join together and experience arts, crafts, foods and textiles from all over the globe.

We were so pleased to hear that Peter was inspired by his trip to our partner hospital in Vientiane. It’s always fantastic to hear that our fundraisers are inspired by our work and have seen first-hand the impact donations have for children in developing countries. We are delighted to have Peter as a Smile Train supporter, and are very much looking forward to his ‘Bringing the World Together’ festival.
Hannah Weston, Community and Events Manager, Fundraising, Smile Train UK

Allyson Himelstein brings Smile Train to Dartmouth College

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The following blog was written by Smile Train Young Leadership Circle (YLC) Board Member Allyson Himelstein , Allyson discusses YLC Fundraising events that she has organized at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

I was invited to join Smile Train’s Young Leadership Circle in the summer of 2014, right around the time my boyfriend and I were moving to Hanover, New Hampshire, so he could begin at Tuck. I found a great job at Dartmouth, as well.

When I moved, I was initially concerned about being so far away from the action in New York City and the Young Leadership Circle. There would be no happy hours, no fun charitable gatherings, no meetings at Smile Train’s HQ office to greet new board members and eat pizza — activities that I really enjoy!

After things settled down a bit, I hosted a bake sale in the community center. It seemed like all the Tuck Partners—significant others of the students — contributed something delicious from homemade apple pie, to individually wrapped satchels of caramel toffee popcorn. We quickly brought in around $600 — who knew that Tuck students love to eat so many sweets!

A few months later, when the average temperature was -10°, I thought it would be nice to get sweaty at Dartmouth’s Alumni Gym. My neighbor, a spin instructor by night, happily conducted two back-to-back classes. I called it Spin for Smiles, and before the actual event, I stopped by every shop on Main Street in order to ask for gifts for the biker who put in the most effort and nearly all of the owners gave something — it’s so nice living in a small town where people say yes more than no.

Last week, I organized my favorite event so far. I called it Win a Date with a Hot Tuckie. This may sound familiar if you saw the highly acclaimed film, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. On the Thursday before Valentine’s Day, I partnered with two Tuck students to host a raffle for a few hours before the annual Valentine’s Day Massacre Hockey Game (no, it’s not as macabre as it sounds). Students bought tickets to win a date with one of four eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. The winners were announced with much fanfare in-between hockey periods. We made $630 in two hours! Tuck is one of the smallest business schools in the United States, so I was thrilled with the turn out.

I want to thank the community at the Tuck School of Business. They have allowed me to continue to support Smile Train and have gone above and beyond supporting all of the fundraisers I have planned. I can’t wait to see what the spring brings!

Dates auctioned off at Win a Date with a Hot Tuckie

Tuckie 1

No, this is not false advertising – you won’t be buying tickets for a date with either of the women in the foreground. Instead you’d win a date with the perfect gentleman who is a big believer in letting his date bask in the spotlight.

Tuckie 2

Need we say more? She is definitely an all-American girl, but unlike the mass-merchandised doppelganger she’s one-of-a-kind. You do not want to miss out on this lucky opportunity.

Tuckie 3

Notice anything missing from this photo? Here’s a hint, it could be you. Don’t let the picture fool you though, this guys is a real charmer.

Tuckie 4

We’re told that not only does she love giraffes, but that she also loves tripod, yoga, and has an affinity for tequila. Think you can make her fall in love with you?

Smile Train Programs Update

IMG_1181Mackinnon Engen serves as Vice President of Programs, helping to develop and strengthen Smile Train’s programs around the world to reach more children in need of cleft care. In her own words, she asked to give Smile Train supporters an update on her team’s plans for 2016.

I’m excited to share that we have already hit the ground running and have a number of exciting plans for Smile Train in 2016! Supporters of our programs often ask me what is new or coming down the pipeline, so I thought I would provide a sneak peek of a few new programs and efforts this year.

SNurse Training 300mile Train continues to invest more and more in our comprehensive care programs, such as speech therapy and orthodontics, so that all our patients can go on to live a full life. In January, Smile Train hosted its first speech therapy training in Ghana. With participants from across West Africa, the event helped pave the way for more children in the region to access critical speech services after their cleft surgery.


Haiti 300We are always aiming to grow our local partnerships with cleft teams so that we can help as many children as possible. Recently we launched new partnerships and programs in Haiti, Zimbabwe and the Dominican Republic. It is so inspiring to see the commitment these medical teams have to help children in their own communities. Smile Train’s support for surgery, training, equipment and other needs helps ensure that children no longer have to wait for life-changing treatment and their families can feel confident that the care being provided will be high-quality, safe, and completely free.

Awareness 300We work tirelessly to raise awareness about clefts as a treatable medical condition. The children we are trying to reach are often hidden away, shunned or isolated in their communities so our efforts to get the word out at the grassroots level are essential. This year, our Smile Train team in India has planned a series of cleft weeks across the country. While a child can get help from our programs all year round, a cleft week is a special time that the whole village comes together to help reach children with clefts in need. Our ambassadors and local partners spend time in the village market, places of worship, schools, and even going door to door in a campaign to educate the public about clefts and the opportunity for free treatment with a local Smile Train partner. These efforts help us reach hundreds more children who could otherwise remain left behind.

Here at Headquarters, we are also focusing on how we can continue to measure our impact and ensure that we are leveraging our donors’ support as best as possible around the developing world. We created and host the world’s largest cleft treatment database, Smile Train Express, so that we can track every single patient we serve and monitor the care they are receiving.  We are constantly updating this technology to ensure it meets our needs as our programs grow and expand, such as adding new features for speech therapy + orthodontics and adding new languages so it can be used seamlessly anywhere in the world.

While these are a few of our new efforts, one thing will never change: Smile Train and our partner hospitals around the world are working as hard as possible to make sure that each and every child with a cleft will receive the best possible care. We are looking forward to creating many more smiles together with you in 2016!