Jasmine Wang: Seeing is Believing

Jwangheader.jpgJasmine Wang, Associate, Marketing and Communications, shares how her feelings about the Power Of A Smile have changed since returning from visiting local Smile Train medical partners in Indonesia.

I’ve been a Smile Train supporter for as long as I can remember and I’ve had the privilege to work as part of Smile Train’s marketing department for almost two years — I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Power Of A Smile. But after visiting Smile Train partners in Indonesia, I know that posting a photo on social media isn’t the same as seeing the joy in a mother’s eyes firsthand. Reading and sharing patient stories pales in comparison to actually holding a child in your arms whose entire life has changed thanks to a simple cleft surgery.

Lila 300.jpgMy journey started with Smile Train partner hospital RS. Permata Sari in Semarang where I met several families who had traveled from all over the region for cleft surgery. One of the patients was a 6-year-old girl named Lila. Lila was born with a cleft lip and palate, but fortunately found Smile Train and was able to received surgery as a baby. You can now barely tell that she has ever had a cleft. Lila also was kind enough to sing a song for us, and she has a beautiful singing voice, and the confidence to match. Although I was nervous before I got to the hospital, seeing how happy and brave Lila was singing in front of a room full of people made me instantly feel more at ease.

Smile House 300.jpgA few days later, I flew to Bali to visit The Smile House. The Smile House is an amazing organization that provides cleft patients waiting for and recovering from surgery a free place to stay, speech therapy classes, and feeding trainings. I met a 24-year-old man who was about to receive his first cleft lip surgery the next day. He lived in a very remote village and said that he had no idea that cleft surgery even existed. It’s sad that he felt like an outsider for so long, but he was so excited about returning to his village with a new smile and a brand new start.

I could go on and on, about all of the amazing people that I met, but the moral would remain the same — a new smile is a powerful thing. A new smile helped to give Lila the confidence to sing, and all of the children from The Smile House a chance to stop hiding in isolation. Cleft repair surgery, and the new smiles it gives, allows children to live the full lives that they want and deserve.

Lynda Wilson: A Lifetime of Giving Smiles

candle header 2In early February, Smile Train supporter Lynda Wilson peacefully passed away surrounded by her loved ones. Lynda’s son Stuart shares, in his own words, some of the things he learned about his mother in her last days.

When my mum knew she wasn’t going to be with us for much longer, her strength and character showed through in many ways – it was very inspiring. One of her wishes was for her friends and family to give to a cause that would help others after she was gone – she was always thinking of others before herself.

As a nursery nurse, mum devoted her working life to helping children. She taught them to read, spell, add up, and taught them how to overcome challenges in their lives. She made them smile with her kindness and care.

One story she shared with me was from when she was just 16-years-old. At the time, she was a nursey nurse trainee and she started looking after a baby with a cleft palate. The baby had been abandoned at the hospital by her mother, but luckily the child’s father stepped in and committed himself to looking after his daughter. When the father had to work, he brought his newborn to mum’s nursey and mum cared for her.

My mum described the baby as having the most beautiful eyes. It was clear that even 50 years later the unfairness of the child’s abandonment was still something that made mum sad. She wanted friends and family to donate to a charity that would help treat children born with clefts. No child should have to suffer through this correctable condition or, even worse, be abandoned or neglected by their parents and society.

Mum’s kindness has already helped to raise more than £600 for Smile Train, and I hope that we will add even more smiles to that total.

If you would like to donate to Lynda’s memory visit Justgiving.com/LyndasSmiles/

A Father’s Letter of Thanks: Muskan’s Smile

Muskan header.jpgMy wife and I were so happy when we saw our newborn daughter’s beautiful face for the very first time that we decided to name her Muskan (the Urdu word for smile). However, our joy was short-lived when the doctor informed us that she had been born with cleft palate. At the time, we had no idea whether a cleft palate could be cured or even if our daughter would be able to survive with this defect in her mouth.

Only the parents of a child with a cleft palate could understand the state of helplessness and distress when your child is unable to take-in proper nutrition. She would choke when using a bottle, even after we started using a specially designed nipple– her choking problem only increased as she grew older and we started feeding her food with spoon.

Muskan’s cleft palate was the cause of many sleepless nights and it flooded our minds with worries about her future. I thought, “Would she ever be able to eat, breathe, and speak like other children?” Finally our worries we were eased when a relative told us about a man who had performed a free cleft palate surgery for their daughter — Smile Train partner surgeon Dr. Tahmeed Ullah.

During our first visit to Dr. Ullah’s clinic, we saw dozens of other children with similar problems. Some of them had already had their transformational cleft surgeries, while others were waiting for the miracle to happen. I felt that we were not alone in our mixed feelings of hope and distress when I looked at the other parent’s faces. When Dr. Ullah, told us that Muskan was accepted for Smile Train sponsored surgery, it revived our hope for our daughter’s future.

On the day of the surgery, my wife was much more composeMuskan cropd and confident than me. All day she reassured me that Muskan was in good hands with Dr. Ullah and Smile Train. She was correct in her trust — Dr. Ullah brought our child back to us safe and sound. Our nightmare was over.

Muskan has transformed from a journey of pain and agony to a complete child with a complete smile. She can now eat without difficulty. It may seem like a small thing but it is wonderful to have her eat the same meal as the rest of the family. Thank you very much Smile Train — life is much easier now that Muskan has a perfect smile.

By Javeed

A Fresh Start for Saraswati

Saraswati 300Early one morning, residents sleeping at a hostel in Koppal, India awoke to the sound of a crying baby. When the crying persisted, a group was able to track down the source of the commotion — an abandoned two-day-old baby with a cleft lip and palate.

They knew that they needed to help the severely malnourished child, so they started calling local government offices and charities. After several failed attempts, the dying child was rushed to local Smile Train partner SDM Medical College. There the baby’s caretakers received counseling on special feeding techniques for children with clefts as well as medicine to keep the baby healthy. It was that day Saraswati was named after a Hindu goddess with healing and purifying powers.

After months of hard work, Saraswati became healthy enough for her Smile Train sponsored free cleft lip surgery. Then, several months later, she received her cleft palate surgery.

Recently, a couple looking to adopt a child met Saraswati. They fell in love with her and said that she had the perfect smile. The baby who was previously abandoned and left for dead now has a fresh start and a second chance at life with her new parents.

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Struggling to Survive: Samwel’s Story

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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.

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Frozen by Fear: Sophia’s Story

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Mohammed Nisar and his wife never learned how to read when they were growing up in Southeast Pakistan. This made it difficult to find steady work and provide for their growing family. So Mohammed took a job as a rickshaw driver, primarily to pay for his children’s educations. It was very important to them that all of their children would grow up with the ability to read and have the opportunity to be prosperous.

When Mohammed’s wife gave birth to their fifth child Sophia, the family was shocked to see she was born with a cleft lip and palate. The little money they had went toward paying for Sophia’s siblings’ educations, and the price of cleft lip and palate surgeries for Sophia was completely unattainable.

As Sophia grew older, she avoided everyone she encountered. When she left the house, she buried her face in her mother’s dress or walked with her hands covering her face. When she was old enough to attend a local school with her siblings, Mohammed said that Sophia was immobilized with fits of anxiety and she refused to leave her home.

At nine-years-old, Sophia had a fortunate encounter at a local market with a representative from local Smile Train partner CLAFT. Dr. Zubair A. Abbasi recalls, “Sophia suffered from psychosocial problems. She was very nervous when we met and she was constantly covering her cleft lip with her hand.” The doctor invited Sophia and her mother to a local clinic and she was approved for her Smile Train sponsored cleft lip and palate surgeries.

SophiaThe surgeries were successful and Sophia got her beautiful smile back. “Sophia was a totally changed girl when I saw her last. She was smiling, did not cover her face, and had complete confidence,” said Dr. Abbasi. Mohammed recently visited the clinic to thank Smile Train and CLAFT. He said that Sophia can freely leave their home and has decided that she is ready to go to school. Now Mohammed’s dream that all of his children will be able to read and have the opportunity to be prosperous is finally a reality.

22 Years of Fear

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When Allo Charles was born with cleft lip, his parents recognized what the condition was, but had never personally seen it before. The children in their village who were previously born with cleft lip or palate were either in hiding or had been killed. Clefts in this village, in rural Chad, are seen by the villagers as a bad omen and are considered a punishment from God for the family’s sins. After Allo was born with a cleft lip, his parents quickly decided that every child is a gift and they would openly raise Allo in their community, without shame.

Almost immediately, there were harsh consequences. Allo’s family wasn’t allowed to attend village meetings, and they were socially ostracized. Allo remembered, “I couldn’t eat or play with others because their parents wouldn’t let their children get close to me. There were several superstitions about my cleft, and they even made me believe some of them. I thought I was cursed.”

When Allo attended primary school, he said that his fellow students and teachers made his life miserable. They said his education was a waste of time and he would never amount to anything. “School for me was hell, but living with an unrepaired cleft made me strong. The more I was insulted, the more I wanted to prove them wrong and make something of my life,” said Allo.

Allo thought that secondary school might be his chance for a better life. The day he left his village for a room in the much larger city of N’Djamena, his new landlord wouldn’t allow Allo to move in. The landlord said that his children were afraid of Allo and he did not want them to catch his disease. Allo decided to move in with his cousin while he figured out what to do next.

Fortunately, during this downtime from school, he saw a Facebook post from Smile Train partner WECCARE  Foundation. He thought the offer of free cleft surgery was too good to be true, but decided to go to WECCARE  after seeing the program was endorsed by the First Lady of Chad. “On that day, for the first time in my life, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. There were dozens of people who looked just like me at the hospital.” Three days later, Allo received his Smile Train sponsored, free cleft surgery.

Allo Now Allo says he wants to repay Smile Train and WECCARE’s  wonderful gift of a new smile by going back to school and becoming an advocate for children with cleft lip and palate living in Chad.