Smile Train supporter and former cleft patient, Nina Bolhuis, talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her.
What inspired you to support Smile Train?
I think that more people need to be aware that cleft lip and palate is often a very serious health issue—especially for children with clefts who can’t afford a surgery. I recently found Smile Train on Instagram and I was amazed by all of the smiling children Smile Train has reached.
If you could give one piece of advice to a child with cleft what would it be?
Be self-confident. Once I learned to embrace myself all of the shame went away. You may not look like everyone else but you’re beautiful and strong. Embrace your imperfections, they will always be there, and that makes you, you.
What did being born with a cleft teach you about life?
It taught me to stand up for myself. When I was younger, I ignored bullying by pretending that it didn’t bother me but now I’ve learned to confront bullying by openly talking about my cleft. Once people know your story, they will be less likely to try to hurt you.
What makes you smile?
I always say, “Don’t search for happiness, find it.” I think that some people overthink happiness and often miss all of the happy things all around. A child helped by Smile Train makes me happy. My family and friends make me happy. Music and dancing make me happy.
In early 2015, Agnetta Muhawenimana gave birth to her first son, Samwel, who was unexpectedly born with a cleft lip. The extended family, many of whom worked with Agnetta at their small family farm, gathered at her home in anticipation of Samwel’s arrival. But instead they all sat in silence and feared for Samwel’s life.
Samwel began to lose weight because his cleft lip hindered his ability to breastfeed. Food was already scarce for the large family, and Agnetta did not know if her frail son would survive. After several weeks of trial and error, Agnetta discovered that she could feed Samwel breastmilk with a spoon, and he began to put on weight.
When Samwel was six-months-old, Agnetta heard a local radio host describing free Smile Train sponsored cleft surgery in Rwamagana. Agnetta knew this was her chance to provide Samwel a second chance at life, but she could not afford the transportation costs, as Smile Train’s partner hospital was 100 miles away. She decided to go door-to-door, asking to borrow money from neighbors until she had enough to cover the bus ride there. She would worry about how she was going to get home later.
In August of 2015, Samwel arrived at our Smile Train partner hospital in Rwamagana, and since he was at a healthy weight he was approved for free cleft lip surgery. When he came out of surgery, Agnetta said, “Bless all of the people who have given my son a new tomorrow.” After the local medical team was told about the family’s financial problems, Agnetta even received a small grant to cover the cost of transportation back home.
New Orleans, LA- Karen Vincent, Middle School teacher at Stuart Hall School for Boys writes about her students’ fundraising efforts for Smile Train. They have raised enough funds to provide more than 100 free cleft surgeries.
For nine years now, the sixth grade men of Stuart Hall School for Boys have sponsored a lemonade sale during the month of October to benefit Smile Train. At our school, we work each month on a quality that we would like to improve in ourselves and each is sponsored by a grade level. Ours is Compassion – we do our best to raise as much money as possible through both our lemonade sale and private donations to fund new smiles for children we will never meet, but whose lives will be forever changed by our actions.
I am continually surprised at how generous these men are. We only charge 25¢ for a cup of iced cold lemonade (it’s HOT here until at least Thanksgiving), but almost every child will put in a dollar and say, “Just keep the change for those kids.” Many will bring in their allowance or the contents of their savings bank. It’s truly impressive.
During our Monday chapels in October, we inform the student body about Smile Train and their efforts, so they are well acquainted with what a cleft is and how it affects someone’s life. In the spring of this year, Caitlin Roarke, Manager, Community Relations from Smile Train came to visit us. When she asked the students if any of them knew what a cleft was, every hand in the chapel went up! Later she told me that it kind of threw off her speech that she had prepared – the men of Stuart Hall KNOW about Smile Train!
University of Cincinnati’s Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity recently held their 5th Annual Ginger Greek Competition to raise funds for Smile Train. Ginger Greek is a holiday-themed philanthropy that invites student organizations to compete in a holiday movie trivia night, a Santa run, and ginger bread house competition over a three day period.
More organizations are attending Ginger Greek every year and the event is quickly becoming a campus institution. This wildly successful event started with humble beginnings, as an idea from former Sigma Phi Epsilon president, and former cleft patient, Mark Kroger. Mark wanted to raise funds for children living with unrepaired clefts and realized that the holidays were the perfect time to bring people together in the spirit of giving.
The fraternity has continued the tradition with the help of Mark’s younger brothers, who also became members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. “Over the past five years our fraternity has helped children, who we’ll never meet, have the opportunity to live a more normal life,” said Mark.
Ginger Greek 2015, raised enough for 58 new smiles. Smile Train would like to thank the Kroger family, University of Cincinnati students, and the brothers at Sigma Phi Epsilon, for changing the world one smile at a time.
Smile Train matching gift donor, Jeff Gardner, shares the reasons why he donates to Smile Train through his employer’s matching gift program.
What does the “Power of a Smile” mean to you?
A smile is very powerful. A smile conveys inner strength and happiness. A smile can bring joy to anyone who is giving or receiving it. A smile can opens doors and conversations into other people’s worlds–I think my wife first liked me for my smile.
If you could give one piece of advice to a child with cleft what would it be?
Never give up hope. Keep the faith that one day soon you will be able to have life-changing surgery.
What first inspired you to support Smile Train?
Once I learned that a cleft lip and palate could be repaired with a relatively simple surgery, and that Smile Train attends to the cleft children’s emotional and physical needs– I knew that a donation would be immensely rewarding for me. What better gift is there than to give the chance to provide life-changing surgery and follow-up care for a child and his or her family?
What was it about Smile Train that stood out to you from other charities?
The structure and goal of the organization for providing not only the surgery but the necessary support and care leading up to and after the surgery. The goals of the 3-dimensional virtual surgery simulator program exemplify Smile Train’s goals for education and teaching.
Why do you take advantage of your employer’s matching gift program?
I was so excited when I learned that my pharmaceutical company had a matching gift program. I knew that company match contributions to Smile Train would be a great way to double my impact to help children.
If you’re interested in your company matching your gift to Smile Train please visit smiletrain.org/donate/matching-gift.html
Julieanne and her husband Nigel, from Bromborough in Wirral, have always loved to host parties for their family and friends. But after receiving a Smile Train leaflet through the letter box in 2011, they decided that these parties could serve an even greater purpose – to raise money for children suffering from cleft lips and palates in the developing world. We recently caught up with Julieanne to hear more about her fundraising parties.
Can you tell us more about your parties?
Nigel and I started hosting Smile Train parties roughly five years ago with a small party in the garden. We decided to ask for donations instead of people bringing presents. The first party was so successful that we have hosted one every year since, and each year the guest list just keeps growing.
Tell us about your 60th Birthday Party
We had more than 60 guests, who each donated £20 to attend. We also had small fees to participate in our party games and raffle. Altogether, we raised £2,550 – enough money to cover the surgery costs for 18 children born with cleft lips and palates!
Why do you continue to support Smile Train?
We enjoy raising money for an excellent charity like Smile Train because we know that a relatively small amount of money can change the lives of the children they help. All of us living in the UK have so much to be thankful for. It is wonderful to be able to help others in this way and have a great party at the same time.
What makes you Smile?
Hosting parties. There’s nothing nicer than getting all your friends and family together – the house just comes alive!