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.
Pamela Sheeran, Vice President and Regional Director, Latin America talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her.
What inspired you to work at Smile Train?
Before I started working for Smile Train, I spent a significant amount of time working in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Haiti. I noticed that in spite of the numerous dedicated international health NGOs and aid agencies working in these countries, there were still many families in need of basic health services.
During that time, I also met many amazing local professionals eager to be a part of their communities’ solutions. With training and resources, they would make sure the need in their respective neighborhoods’, cities’ and countries’ needs would be met.
So when I heard about Smile Train’s unique model of empowering local professionals so they can provide top quality, free cleft care to families in their local communities, I knew I had to get aboard the train.
How has your involvement with Smile Train made you look at the Power Of A Smile differently?
Now I understand that a smile represents the fact that so many people have come together, all in the name of a child in need of a simple, yet life-changing surgery. From the donor in his/her home, to the staffer in the Smile Train NY office, to the local hospital and team in the developing world, and to the rural community where the patient lives, so many people from all corners of the world all seamlessly come together to create a smile for a child in need. When I see a smile, now I see all of the generous people involved with making sure it can happen.
What has the Power Of A Smile done for you in your life?
It has taught me enjoy my smile. It is powerful, so use it wisely and often. A smile is so powerful that I’ve decided to dedicate my life to helping others find theirs.
Tuhaise was born in a remote village in Kibale, Uganda. As soon as his mother and father saw his cleft lip, they left the village and abandoned him. When his Aunt Maimuna heard this horrible news, she went to see her nephew. “I immediately connected to Tuhaise and decided to take him in; I had little money and many children to take care of, but Tuhaise needed a mother,” she recalled.
Maimuna is a subsistence farmer on a small piece of land. She knew that cleft surgery was available at the regional hospital, but thought she would never be able to afford it. Years went by and the young boy remained at home while his cousins attended school. Maimuna said, “It was heartbreaking to see little Tuhaise suffering from rejection in the village, my children would ask me to take him to the tailor shop to have his lip ‘sewed’ so that he could look normal.”
Fortunately, Smile Train partner CoRSU hospital was running a community mobilization campaign near their village to sensitize people about accepting disabilities. Maimuna met with the hospital staff; she knew it could be her only chance to have Tuhaise medically attended to. With a few clothes in her bag, she left home and headed to CoRSU.
With funding from Smile Train, Tuhaise received his new smile and Maimuna could not stop singing words of praise to the people who made her nephew’s new smile possible. She recently reported that, “Tuhaise is no longer an object of ridicule in the village, he will go to school with my other children very soon.”