Journey of Smiles: Yeonilda

Yeonilda Lopez, 8, before and after her Smile Train surgery. She had traveled over 14 hours with her father from her indigenous community in a remote part of Colombia for surgery.

Yeonilda Lopez, 8, before and after her Smile Train surgery. She had traveled over 14 hours with her father from her indigenous community in a remote part of Colombia for surgery.


Bogotá, Colombia—In many of the countries Smile Train works there are places so remote that there are no hospitals, let alone electricity. Anyone in these areas born with cleft would most certainly never have it fixed.

Yeonilda Lopez is a little girl who has lived this reality. Born and raised in an indigenous community in Colombia called Vichada, she had lived eight years with her cleft lip and never thought anything could be done to make her look like the other children. Tucked away in a very isolated region within the Colombian national territory along the Orinoco River near Venezuela, it was by chance that Yeonilda met a gentleman who was working with her community and knew there was a solution for her cleft. He wanted very much to help.

The solution came in the form of Smile Train partner hospital, Fisulab. The team at Fisulab had already been providing free Smile Train surgeries since 2007 and had helped over 650 patients with cleft. The only problem with this plan was that Fisulab is located in Bogotá, Colombia—425 miles and a 14 hours car ride away from Yeonilda’s home. This did not deter Fisulab from helping this little girl. They were able to contact the family and completely organized all arrangements for her surgery.

After arriving at Fisulab, Yeonilda and her father nervously await for her surgery.

After arriving at Fisulab, Yeonilda and her father nervously await for her surgery.

While Yeonilda was excited to have her cleft fixed, she was also very nervous. She had never left her community, did not know what a city was, and only spoke in her local dialect. She was accompanied to her surgery by her father who is the chief in their community and more importantly knew Spanish. Because of this knowledge he would be able to navigate and comfort his daughter through the whirlwind trip.

Shortly after her journey Yeonilda had a successful cleft surgery. While the impact of her journey was great and she did not enjoy the cold Bogotá temperatures, she and father could not have been happier with the outcome of their trip. One week after surgery they returned home eager to show off Yeonilda’s new smile.

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