Smile Train Programs Update

IMG_1181Mackinnon Engen serves as Vice President of Programs, helping to develop and strengthen Smile Train’s programs around the world to reach more children in need of cleft care. In her own words, she asked to give Smile Train supporters an update on her team’s plans for 2016.

I’m excited to share that we have already hit the ground running and have a number of exciting plans for Smile Train in 2016! Supporters of our programs often ask me what is new or coming down the pipeline, so I thought I would provide a sneak peek of a few new programs and efforts this year.

SNurse Training 300mile Train continues to invest more and more in our comprehensive care programs, such as speech therapy and orthodontics, so that all our patients can go on to live a full life. In January, Smile Train hosted its first speech therapy training in Ghana. With participants from across West Africa, the event helped pave the way for more children in the region to access critical speech services after their cleft surgery.

 

Haiti 300We are always aiming to grow our local partnerships with cleft teams so that we can help as many children as possible. Recently we launched new partnerships and programs in Haiti, Zimbabwe and the Dominican Republic. It is so inspiring to see the commitment these medical teams have to help children in their own communities. Smile Train’s support for surgery, training, equipment and other needs helps ensure that children no longer have to wait for life-changing treatment and their families can feel confident that the care being provided will be high-quality, safe, and completely free.

Awareness 300We work tirelessly to raise awareness about clefts as a treatable medical condition. The children we are trying to reach are often hidden away, shunned or isolated in their communities so our efforts to get the word out at the grassroots level are essential. This year, our Smile Train team in India has planned a series of cleft weeks across the country. While a child can get help from our programs all year round, a cleft week is a special time that the whole village comes together to help reach children with clefts in need. Our ambassadors and local partners spend time in the village market, places of worship, schools, and even going door to door in a campaign to educate the public about clefts and the opportunity for free treatment with a local Smile Train partner. These efforts help us reach hundreds more children who could otherwise remain left behind.

Here at Headquarters, we are also focusing on how we can continue to measure our impact and ensure that we are leveraging our donors’ support as best as possible around the developing world. We created and host the world’s largest cleft treatment database, Smile Train Express, so that we can track every single patient we serve and monitor the care they are receiving.  We are constantly updating this technology to ensure it meets our needs as our programs grow and expand, such as adding new features for speech therapy + orthodontics and adding new languages so it can be used seamlessly anywhere in the world.

While these are a few of our new efforts, one thing will never change: Smile Train and our partner hospitals around the world are working as hard as possible to make sure that each and every child with a cleft will receive the best possible care. We are looking forward to creating many more smiles together with you in 2016!

Never Too Late to Follow Your Dreams

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Sannidhanandan was born in a rural area of India with a cleft lip and palate. By the early age of six-years-old, Sannidhanandan found his calling and decided he was going to be a famous singer. His teachers and family encouraged him to keep practicing even though his singing voice was nasally due to his unrepaired cleft lip and palate.

In 2001, when he was 21 years old, a friend of his read about cleft surgeries performed by a doctor in Mangalore. Soon after the two traveled to Mangalore and Sannidhanandan was finally able to receive his new smile.

After his surgery, Sannidhanandan became confident enough to sing in public and he began pursuing his dream of being a famous singer. After training in classical music for years he decided to participate in one of India’s most popular singing competitions, “Asianet Idea Star Singer 2007”. With his sheer determination and willpower, Sannidhanandan quickly became a fan favorite and finished in the top 10!

Today Sannidhanandan has achieved his dream and is a very popular singer. He feels that he has been blessed with immense talent and wanted to put his popularity to good use. Recently he visited local Indian Smile Train partner Jubilee Mission Hospital and gave the parents of the cleft children words of encouragement. He shared his story of how he achieved his dreams late in his life after his cleft surgery, and he told them that they should never discourage their children from having big dreams.

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The Story of Happiness

Dr. Meschack Ong’uti (left), with Happiness and her mother, Emina after Happiness' Smile Train surgery.

Dr. Meschack Ong’uti (left), with Happiness and her mother, Emina after Happiness’ Smile Train surgery.

Garoua, CameroonPaul Kimani from Smile Train partner Help a Child Face Tomorrow shares his introduction to Happiness—a nine-year-old girl from Cameroon.

As I was walking around the ward filled with pre-op patients with cleft lips, my eyes was drawn to two, a mother, Emina, seated while sleeping, with her daughter lying on her lap, both looking physically exhausted. I later came to know that the girl was the woman’s nine-year-old daughter, Happiness Betah.

When Emina married all she wanted was a family of her own. “I come from a huge family, seven sisters and four brothers,” she said. All of her siblings were married with kids. But her wish did not come as soon as she had expected, as it took her almost five years to conceive. At one point almost being divorced by her husband.

Hapinness Betah, 9yrs (1)

When she became pregnant it was the happiest moment of her life, not only was her wishes of having a child coming true, but her treasured marriage was not going to crumble. Her happiness was short lived though when she gave birth to her daughter, who had cleft lip and cleft palate, a condition which she had never seen before in her life.

Emina’s life went on a downward spiral when rumors started spreading that she cheated on her husband and that is why she gave birth to a child with cleft. Her marriage on the rocks, she felt as if the whole world was against her.

“We don’t always get what we want in life,” she said tickling her daughter. Emina decided to be strong for her daughter, finally naming her after one month—Happiness. Her fragile marriage could not hold the strain any more though and her husband left her. He could not bear being around a child who he believed was not his as no one had a cleft lip or palate in his family.

Despite all the hurdles, Emina didn’t give up on her daughter. She sold vegetables so that she could afford to feed her. Emina’s and her daughter’s fate changed for the better when she saw a poster at her church indicating a free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries being offered by Smile Train. This news could not have come at a better time. Although Betah was nine years old, she had never been to school because of her cleft lip and palate which impaired her speech.

“I didn’t want my child to undergo more torture in school, kids in the village had already done enough damage, they used to call her names and laugh at her, it made me sad whenever I saw my child playing alone. I just wanted to protect her.” Emina said as she wiped her tears. She could never have afforded cleft surgery for her daughter.

Without wasting time, she borrowed bus fare from her relatives, adding to what she had already saved. The two then set off on a 950km journey from their village in Kumba to Garoua. Happiness was lucky to be among the patients who underwent the free surgery, successfully repairing her cleft lip and palate.

“How can I every repay you? Thank you for giving me and my daughter a new chapter in life.” Emina told the team as she shook hands with Dr. Ong’uti, the maxillofacial surgeon who repaired her daughter’s cleft. “I want to get home as quickly as possible and enroll my child to school.”

When Baba Smiles His Parents’ Hearts Lift With Joy

Baba TBT story

Mumbai, India—The Argaonkar family was shocked and depressed when they discovered their child would be born with a cleft lip for they knew they could not afford the operation. However, the father remembered reading about Pinki Sonkar, a Smile Train patient who is the subject of Smile Train’s Oscar®–winning documentary Smile Pinki. He had read about her trip to London in July 2013 when Pinki was chosen to perform the coin toss at the Gentlemen’s Singles final, Wimbledon .

Their son Baba, one year after the free surgery provided by Smile Train, is now a beautiful boy who brings happiness to his parents’ hearts. Dr Bharti Khandekar and the Godrej Memorial Hospital are to thank for their hard work and dedication. Thanks to the partnership between the Indiabulls Foundation and Smile Train, another young life has been restored with hope.

Argaonkar Family Pic

A Change of Heart

Six-year-old Harouna from Niger, before and after his Smile Train surgery that not only transformed his life, but his father's as well.

Six-year-old Harouna from Niger, before and after his Smile Train surgery that not only transformed his life, but his father’s as well.

Bouza, Niger—Harouna Mahamadou is a beautiful six-year-old boy from Niger who is a patient at Smile Train’s partner hospital, CURE Children’s Hospital of Niger.

When Harouna was born his father, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim, was disappointed with both his wife and son as Harouna was the only child out of nine to be born with a cleft. Mahamadou was so upset he left his family for another woman. Unfortunately soon after, Mahamadou was in a terrible accident and was bedridden for eight months. During this time his new wife left him claiming she would rather be a divorcee than a widow.

Feeling rejected, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim began to realize how his son must have felt for being ostracized for something he could not control. After apologizing to his wife and son, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim slowly regained his strength and soon after, learned about Smile Train. Harouna soon underwent a cleft operation with the love and support from his entire family.

The Mahamadou family has undergone a transformation in spirit. Now grateful for his family and son, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim told Smile Train, “What you are doing is the work of God, because you are taking care of people who really need help and who have no one else to help them.”

Lau Jean’s Story

Lau Jean, 54, before and after his Smile Train surgery.

Lau Jean, 54, before and after his Smile Train surgery.

Tokombéré, Cameroon—Rejected, insulted, despised, alienated, and thought of as a witch. Such was the fate of Mr. Lau Jean. Smile Train met Jean, a 54-year-old man, in Cameroon at Hôpital Privé Catholique de Tokombere.

Jean was born in a remote village in northern Cameroon called Glonhobe and from infancy his life was marked by rejection. He received no schooling and as a child lived in a world of ignorance, poverty, and fear of death. Because of his cleft, he was not allowed to partake in traditional ceremonies or village and family gatherings. Jean was unable to even sit with friends and family during meals.

As was the custom in his region, Jean’s marriage was arranged for him when he was a young adult. Jean’s brother represented him during the marriage ceremony though as he was unable to participate in this custom—his own wedding—because of his cleft. When Jean’s wife met him for the first time after the wedding, she was shocked, frightened, confused, and wanted out immediately. Her family could not allow her leave the marriage as the traditional rites had already been finalized. The couple went on to have five children.

Trying to provide for his family was impossible as no one wanted to do business with Jean. He barely had enough money to live, let alone receive surgery to repair his cleft. He was also very afraid he would die during the procedure. Luckily a social worker sponsored by Smile Train from Hôpital Privé Catholique de Tokombere arrived at his village and showed him pictures of patients whose clefts were repaired. They told him stories of how each patient, from infants to adults like himself, now had better lives. He then decided to go ahead with the surgery. After a short, but life-transforming surgical procedure, Jean’s whole world changed.

News about Jean’s new life had gotten to his village even before his arrival three days later. When Jean arrived home a celebration in his honor was waiting for him. His wife was once again confused, only this time, she was staring at her husband with eyes of joy and new love. For the children, it was the first time they saw their papa be like any other father in their community.

Jean is now accepted in all the ranks of his society as a man of honor, having now been given all the traditional rights and privileges. Although adjusting to his new life has at times been difficult, like trying to use his identification papers as his photo has completely changed, he is beyond happy and proud. He is very grateful to Smile Train and its worldwide partners for giving him, and so many other patients like him, a new life. Jean has now become a social recruiter visiting nearby villages as an ambassador for Smile Train educating communities about cleft and finding others in need of surgery.

Cleft Surgery’s Role in Nutrition

Three-month-old Alham (left) shortly before her Smile Train surgery and five-month-old Alham two months after. Alham's story highlights the need for cleft surgery in order to obtain proper nutrition.

Three-month-old Alham (left) shortly before her Smile Train surgery and five-month-old Alham two months after. Alham’s story highlights the need for cleft surgery in order to obtain proper nutrition.

Tanga, TanzaniaIn honor of National Nutrition Month, Smile Train shares a story from Tanzania highlighting the role that timely cleft surgery plays in preventing malnutrition.

When Ahlam was born in rural Tanzania with a cleft lip and palate, her mother Salha, like so many mothers of Smile Train patients, did not know about the common birth defect. Salha’s first two children had been born without incident and perfectly healthy.

Salha and her five-month-old daughter Ahlam pose three months after Ahlam's cleft surgery. Ahlam's health and appearance have vastly improved thanks to her cleft surgery that has allowed her to eat properly.

Salha and her five-month-old daughter Ahlam pose three months after Ahlam’s cleft surgery. Ahlam’s health and appearance have vastly improved thanks to her cleft surgery that has allowed her to eat properly.

Luckily, shortly after Ahlam’s birth, the family was told about Smile Train and that the organization provided free care for thousands of children like Ahlam. The newborn girl would have to wait until she was three months old for surgery though.

During that time life for Salha was difficult. She had no problem feeding her other children, but Ahlam was different because of her cleft. Milk came out of Ahlam’s mouth and nose because she could not suck like a normal infant. With a large gap in her lip and at the roof of her mouth, feeding Ahlam was almost impossible.

Although surgery was a short time away, Salha worried her daughter would not make it. She was not steadily gaining weight and was becoming sick. Despite this, Ahlam’s surgery day came and weighed just enough to go through with surgery.Now at five months old, only two months after her cleft lip surgery, Ahlam’s appearance and health bear no resemblance to the baby girl who entered the hospital for cleft surgery. Not only does she have a new smile, but she has the chubby cheeks of other children her age. The difference is remarkable.

In four months Ahlam will undergo another surgery to correct her cleft palate, which should help her nutrition further as food can still escape through the roof of her mouth. Salha is also looking forward to her daughter’s next surgery and feels this will improve her health even more.

Salha is very grateful for the Smile Train surgery and is happy that her child will have a normal and healthy life.

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To help mothers like Salha, Smile Train developed the following resource video demonstrating the best feeding methods for a child with cleft.