Changing Families’ Lives In Colombia

Smile Train patient Lina and her sister after Lina's free cleft surgery

Cali, ColombiaSmile Train staff member Maryan Newbury recently visited our partner Gracia a Dios Un Niño Sonrie Foundation. While examining best practices for cleft surgery and administration to help with implementation at Smile Train’s other partners, she had the opportunity to visit patients and their families with surgeon Dr. Mauricio Moreno. Upon her return from Colombia, she shared her experience.

Accompanied by the community police, we made our way through one barrio after another, up the side of the mountain. When the police van could no longer climb the steep hill, we went by foot. Shopkeepers, children returning from their morning school session and passersby all tried to point us in the right direction, toward the home of 15-year-old Smile Train patient Lina Rivera and her family. Luckily, we met her younger brother along the way.

The Rivera family lives below a makeshift billiard hall, in a three-room cellar apartment. Electrical wiring hangs in clumps from the ceiling and one wall has mostly crumbled away, exposing the home to the elements. Nevertheless, the children’s mother beamed as she offered us a lunch of arepas and juice, expressing her deep gratitude to Dr. Moreno for the surgery that transformed her daughter’s smile.

I had brought Smile Train teddy bears to give to patients I met during my journey. All of the kids I met had grabbed them and smiled, even if they were still a bit sleepy when waking up from cleft surgery. This time, however, when I took a bear out of my bag and handed it to Lina, she simply turned and walked into the other room. Following her, I watched as Lina handed the bear to her little sister. The smallest member of the family hugged the bear tight, covered it with kisses, and gently put it on the bed. As Lina watched her sister whispering to the bear and tucking it in for a nap, I could see from the quiet satisfaction on her face that anything she receives she will surely share with her little sister.

We know that cleft surgery saves children’s lives, but it also improves the quality of life for their families and communities. When a child’s smile is transformed, she will have more to share with her family and her community throughout her life. By providing free cleft surgery, we didn’t just help Lina, we helped her whole family.

— Maryan Newbury

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