Niamey, Niger — A country that is nearly double the size of Texas, the landlocked Republic of Niger is over 80% desert. Niger has routinely placed amongst the lowest on the United Nations Human Development Index, a measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standards of living. Under these conditions, children born with cleft could never hope for their families to afford the surgery that could repair their clefts and give them the chance at a normal life. Fortunately, this past year, Niger officially became one of the countries in which Smile Train operates in. Among those helped by Smile Train in Niger is Ridouane Moussa, a one-year-old who will luckily never know the pain and isolation that can come with an unrepaired cleft.
Ridouane’s parents eagerly awaited the birth of their son, and were shocked when he was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. While they could not figure out what they had done to cause it, they knew that trying to assign blame to each other or their actions would accomplish nothing. The only thing that mattered was finding help for Ridouane.
For the first 12 months of Ridouane’s life, his father traveled from hospital to hospital searching to see if anything could be done for his son. While the hospitals told him that his son’s cleft could be fixed by surgery, his hope was always crushed when they told him how much the surgery would cost. In the meantime, Ridouane was having trouble feeding. Then one day, his father received good news from a source he never would have expected: a mechanic that had come through his village told him about an advertisement he saw for Smile Train partner CURE Hospital Niger.
It didn’t take long for Ridouane to show up in his father’s arms. Ridouane received free cleft lip surgery and will have his cleft palate repaired in the coming months. His father was ecstatic over his treatment and proudly brought Ridouane home to show off the first stage of his transformation. Shortly thereafter, he came back to the hospital — only this time, it was with another child from his village that had an unrepaired cleft. The child was enrolled for surgery and returned to the village with a bright new smile too.
Lima, Peru — Lightning has long fascinated and influenced mankind: from the myths of its use as a weapon of gods such as Zeus and Thor to Benjamin Franklin tying a key to his kite in a storm to children across the U.S. eagerly watching it strike on a warm summer’s night in the safety of their rooms. As science has disproved the supernatural, the awe still remains. Unfortunately, in more remote areas of the world, the superstitions remain as well.
Jhon Mancilla Aguilar was brought to Smile Train partner Cirplast by his mother, a young woman struggling to raise her child that she thought she unknowingly cursed. When Jhon’s mother was pregnant, she found herself staring at the sky watching in astonishment as lightning repeatedly struck in the distance before it reached her village. Her family rushed her inside fearing that the lightning would harm her unborn child. When Jhon was born with a unilateral cleft lip, she blamed herself, believing that she had cursed her son to a life of shame and humiliation.
She was living with deep guilt when a hospital outreach volunteer spotted her in the village and, after a long talk, convinced her that it was a birth defect that could easily be repaired for free by Smile Train. She immediately packed her things and took her son to have his cleft repaired so he could live a normal, happy life.
Jhon received his surgery and beautiful new smile. The burden of the unwarranted guilt that had weighed down his mother was lifted, and she eagerly took Jhon home to show her family the amazing miracle that occurred. She is full of hope that her son will have a good life for the first time since Jhon was born. All thanks to Dr. Carlos Navarro, his team, and Smile Train donors.
St. Louis, Mo — Last August, teams from around St. Louis gathered at McNair Park, 20 miles outside of St. Louis, for blue skies, fun times, friendly competition, and to play their hearts out to give children in another part of the world new smiles.
Since 2008, Valari Quarando has organized the Annual Smile Train Charity Softball Tournament, and every year the event gains in popularity. A dedicated Smile Train supporter, Valari is no stranger to clefts: she was born with a cleft lip in 1979, “I was lucky enough to be born in a country where this birth defect can be fixed quite easily, so I wanted to help the children who aren’t as lucky.”
The last three tournaments raised more than $3,000 and the hopes were high to do even better this year. With an amazing turn out and the generosity of participants, volunteers, and local businesses, over $1,700 was raised that will go directly to Smile Train to provide free surgery and follow up care to desperate children.
My brother John Quarando and brother-in-law Brett Willbrand have organized a team to play in the tournament every year since it began. This year their team, Cobra Kai, won the tournament for the first time! I have never seen a team more excited to win. Not only do we get to raise money for new smiles for the little kids of Smile Train, but we get to put smiles on all of the players’ faces as well. I can’t wait till next year!
Thanks to Valari, the players, volunteers, sponsors, and everyone involved in the tournament for giving the kids in our programs something to smile about! Be sure to check out some of the photos from the event.
Varanasi, India – Paul Peabody, acclaimed violinist with the New York City Ballet and part of the Grammy winning orchestra that scored “Titanic,” just returned from an unforgettable journey providing the gift of music throughout India. A long time Smile Train supporter, Paul enjoyed his second tour of Smile Train India partner hospitals, playing fiddle for patients, families, doctors, and staff.
He spent most of his five weeks alongside Smile Train partners Dr. Sunil Richardson, Dr. Jyostna Murthy, and Dr. Subodh Singh. Paul comforted patients with a myriad of music from classical to traditional Hindi songs, but the requests really came pouring in when staff would find out that he played an integral role in the music for “Titanic.” Paul primarily rotated between the waiting room and the recovery room to calm the fears of patients and parents before surgery and use the healing powers of music to aid in their recovery. Towards the end of his trip, Paul was even asked to play for the doctors inside the OR.
When Dr. Sunil Richardson asked if I would play [in the OR], I gave a stricken look and I made him promise me that there was no way that my sounds could interfere at all with anyone’s concentration! He told me that many surgeons actually play classical music to help them concentrate. In the OR everything worked like clockwork: extremely peaceful.”
Children who had never heard, let alone seen, a violin before, found themselves glued to their seats as the music washed over them. Whether it was playing Hindi folk songs to comfort crying patients, or playing some of the pop songs he worked on for Michael Jackson and Madonna, Paul’s talents, enthusiasm, and kindness revered him to everyone he met.
His visit coincided with India’s Independence Day, August 15, where he joined in the celebration by playing for and assisting in Dr. Singh’s tree planting, Green Independence Day Initiative.
Paul has recently returned to New York and is already getting ready to plan his trip next year.
Novosibirsk, Russia – Maksim Snayder has spent the first 6 years of his life in various orphanages, abandoned at birth due to his cleft lip and palate. He has had trouble eating properly for nearly all of his life and has been on a liquid diet for the last few years. At 30 pounds, Maksim weighed less than most boys half his age when he came to Smile Train partner Novosibirsk Municipal Clinical Children’s Emergency Hospital #3. Today, Maksim has fully recovered from his surgery and is eating solid food thanks to the collaborative efforts of Smile Train and Helping Orphans Progress Everyday.
In 2006, H.O.P.E. founder Colleen Moore noticed a small infant with cleft lip and palate on her first adoption trip to Russia. While she had already arranged to adopt another boy from the orphanage, she couldn’t stop thinking of how she could help little Maksim. When she returned home, she reached out to a medical mission based cleft charity in the hopes that they would be able to help. Unfortunately, her outreach was declined because Maksim was the only child that they knew of in the area and it didn’t make sense to send a team to treat one child. Despite the setback, Colleen and her team would not give up on Maksim, following his progress over the years until one day, they heard of Smile Train’s programs in Russia.
H.O.P.E. contacted Smile Train headquarters in New York to see if there was room for Maksim. Smile Train’s program staff immediately arranged to find the closest Smile Train partner: about 4 1/2 hours away in Novosibirsk. After exchanging contact information amongst the two charities, the orphanage, and the hospital, Maksim was in a car and on his way to be screened for surgery. Under the skilled hands of Dr. Mikhail Kolibelkin, Maksim awoke from surgery with a repaired palate and lip on May 31. He was discharged from the hospital a few days later and the results have been remarkable. He is eating solid food again and learning to speak properly, knowing that he is that much closer to the life that he could only dream of before.
This newly forged partnership has given Maksim a second chance at life and being adopted by a loving family. And with H.O.P.E’s network of orphanages now in contact with Smile Train, more orphaned children like Maksim can receive free cleft surgery without having to wait as long as he did.