Samantha Johnston, Manager, Corporate Partnerships talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her.
What first inspired you to work at Smile Train?
I loved how focused the organization is. I was impressed about Smile Train’s laser-focus of solving a single problem in the most effective way possible. Also, the fact that they leveraged technology to continually improve day-to-day operations was important to me; it allows me to go to work knowing we will accomplish as much as possible every single day.
How has your involvement with Smile Train made you look at the power a smile differently?
It’s easy to forget that a smile is so much more than a physical feature. To the children Smile Train helps, a smile is a second chance at life. It’s the opportunity to go to school, have friends, and get a job. It’s the opportunity to have dreams that they may never have had without Smile Train.
What keeps you involved in Smile Train?
Knowing we bring happiness to children, families and communities around the world every day keeps me going. Smile Train has achieved some great smilestones in such a short time, but there’s still more work to be done. I want to be sure I do everything in my power to help Smile Train reach as many children as possible.
When Lena gave birth to her daughter Lavender, the whispers about the infant’s cleft lip spread quickly throughout their tiny village of Masindet, Kenya. As neighbors lined up to see the baby, Lena was devastated when she overheard someone saying, “Babies like this shouldn’t exist.”
The family struggled to raise the funds for cleft surgery for more than a year. Lena’s stress and disappointment boiled over during a family argument – she decided to leave the family and run away. Now alone with Lavender, her father knew that he needed help so he asked his mother Irene for support.
Irene fortunately knew that surgery could correct Lavender’s unrepaired cleft lip because her cousin also had a cleft. She told her son that Lavender’s condition was nothing to be embarrassed of. “Stop questioning why Lavender was born with a cleft lip, it is just something that happens, and it can be repaired,” she said.
After asking around, Irene found Smile Train partner, IcFEM Dreamland Mission Hospital and made an appointment for Lavender. On surgery day, the route to the hospital was only accessible by walking so she carried Lavender more than 16 miles through muddy and hilly terrain.
After the surgery, Irene was very happy with the results. “The surgery has made the future of my granddaughter bright,” she says. Irene left the hospital, promising to testify about the miracles being performed at IcFEM Dreamland Mission Hospital. Irene said her next task was to track down Lena in hopes of Lavender’s parents reconciling and raising their child together.
Tomos Lavery and his sister Ffion started Sing 2 Smile, an organisation raising money for Smile Train by showcasing young and exciting musicians across the UK.
How did you become involved with Smile Train and why?
My sister Ffion and I wanted to put our passion for singing to good use. As a dentist, I learned about cleft lips and palates whilst studying for my degree and I know that for a small amount of money it was possible to give hope and confidence to these children. That is when we started the idea for Sing 2 Smile concerts.
What motivates you to keep supporting Smile Train?
Being able to put on concerts with friends and fellow musicians has been extremely enjoyable. We’ve had fantastic support from our local communities, family, and friends. One highlight was meeting other fundraisers and supporters of Smile Train at the House of Lords. It’s wonderful to know that together we are making a difference and helping put a smile back on so many children’s faces.
How have the events gone?
We are working hard to achieve our aim of 35 surgeries. On Saturday 13 June, we put on a classical concert in Rye, East Sussex, raising enough to support 23 cleft surgeries. If you missed the concert, you are still able to donate on the website at sing2smile.org! What’s exciting is that this is just the beginning, and there are many more concerts to come, all over the UK.
What makes you smile?
Since I was 8, I’ve loved going to see Chelsea Football Club as a season ticket holder. I never miss a home game if I can help it, enjoying the good days and the bad ones. I also love the passion and pride of being Welsh at the Millennium Stadium for the 6 Nations, singing the national anthem as loud as I possibly can!
Anmol was born to a poor family in a dusty, border village near Amritsar, India. The birth of a girl is a subdued event in most Indian households, but when Anmol was born, it became a moment of shock and disbelief. Anmol’s family had never seen a child with a cleft before. Anmol’s cleft lip and palate seemed like a curse and the family worried about the future of their daughter.
The family feared that they would face ridicule and be ostracized by their neighbors. So they decided to swaddle Anmol in layers and kept her hidden from all eyes. Anmol was never taken out of the house and if any visitors came, they would find her wrapped up fully in a blanket. She was the daughter who lived in darkness.
Then a doctor at the local hospital told the family that Anmol’s clefts were correctible and she could have free surgery at local Smile Train partner, Amandeep Hospital. Surgery for both her cleft lip and cleft palate were complete successes and the family learned to accept and love their only daughter.
Seven years later, Anmol’s cleft lip and palate surgeries have transformed her life. Anmol is now a beautiful seven-year-old with a charming smile. She is a straight-A student, who loves to sing and dance. The infant who was stuck in darkness now radiates light and brightens the day of everyone she meets.
This past fiscal year was the most successful year in Smile Train Philippines’ history, and we could not have done it without your help. Our local partners completed more than 5,500 surgeries. Thanks to your donations, we have changed the lives of thousands of Filipino children, their families, and the communities where they live.
The Philippines is now home to 100 million people, a quarter of whom live below the poverty line. As an archipelago, the challenge of reaching everyone who needs our help is magnified.
Marian with Smile Train patients
This year Filipino actress and TV sensation Marian Rivera helped us increase awareness about the free surgeries we provide and informed the Filipino people about the importance of having surgery at an early age.
I look forward to another exciting year for Smile Train in the Philippines. It warms my heart to know that Smile Train supporters will always be around to provide much needed cleft surgeries, changing the course of children’s lives. On behalf of the tens of thousands of patients in the Philippines, I wish to thank you for your support and I hope you can visit our beautiful country, filled with people who love to SMILE!
Country Manager, Philippines
Back Row left to right: Dr. Alvaro Figueroa, Lou and Kate Hall, Jessica Duggan, Suzanne Le Mignot, Howard Witt. Front row left to right: Susan Reyman, Michele Figueroa, Marilyn Witt, Yani and Peter Huften, Linda Gerber. Not pictured: Sondra Rabin, Jason Lersch and Neville Shah.
The first meeting of Smile Train’s Chicago Advisory Council was a resounding success. This newly established group of Chicago-based loyal Smile Train supporters is committed to raising awareness about clefts by lending their skills, insights and knowledge. The fifteen elected members of the council come from diverse professional backgrounds and will host several Smile Train events throughout the year.
The meeting, graciously hosted by Howard and Marilyn Witt, included presentations about Smile Train’s sustainable model as well as information about cleft lip and palate. A highlight of the evening was when the group took a break from their meeting to enjoy the fireworks show visible from Navy Pier.
Smile Train is so thankful for the commitment shown by members of our Chicago Advisory Council. Ellyn Harris, Smile Train Director, Major Gifts said, “We are excited to see the effect the council will have on the Chicago Metro Area and ultimately all of the new smiles the group will help provide for children with unrepaired clefts.”
Amir was worried about the arrival of his fifth child. He would need to find a way to support the family on an income of $36 a month as a struggling rice farmer living in West Java, Indonesia. When his son Sukma arrived with a cleft lip, Amir did not know what to do.
His small rice paddy crop, meant to be sold for income, was quickly exhausted to feed his family so Amir had to sign up for the only job he could find; carrying quarry rock down a mountain. Amir’s few moments of free time were spent looking for help for Sukma. Amir searched for free cleft surgery for his son and he was devastated when two cleft mission groups denied him without explanation.
When Sukma started school, his father said he would cry every day when he came home. He hated the teasing from his schoolmates and teachers in his school, but he said it was most hurtful when complete strangers would taunt him. Because of his frustration and the family’s financial situation, Sukma dropped out of primary school.
Sukma went to work to help out the family and he said for 17 years he lived in shame because of his unrepaired cleft lip. After 17 long years of waiting, Sukma heard about local Smile Train partner Obor Berkat hospital and the year-round free cleft surgeries they provide.
On his surgery day Sukma said that he was afraid, but excited. “My unrepaired cleft lip forced me to drop out of school and live my entire life in shame, when only 30 kilometers away free Smile Train surgery was waiting. It would have changed everything,” he said.
After his surgery Sukma reports that his father could not believe the change in him, “He keeps calling me handsome.” Looking toward the future, Sukma is happy to begin his new life that was 17 long years in the making.