Shahid, was living hand-to-mouth as a part-time electrician. Shahid married Shezana and the couple was blessed with two sons. Despite being poor, the family was happy that their sons would have the opportunity to grow up and become successful.
One year later, Shezana gave birth to Mursleen, a baby girl born with a cleft lip and palate. Both parents were despondent because they had never seen a child with a cleft before. Their neighbors and relatives started teasing them, saying that their baby girl was the punishment for their sin of pride.
Mursleen’s parents worried: Was this defect treatable? Who will marry her? How will she spend her life? Will she die?
Two years later, Shezana gave birth to another baby girl, Muntaha, who was also born with a cleft lip and palate. Shezana went into severe depression and became ill, most of the time she cried and cursed her luck.
One day Mursleen became very sick and her father took her to the local doctor in the village. When the doctor saw Mursleen’s face, he told him about free cleft surgery at a Smile Train partner hospital. When Mursleen felt better, the family traveled to Smile Train’s local partner hospital in Gujrat, Pakistan with both girls.
The family was very happy with the professional staff and were amazed that all the treatment was free. Both the girls had surgery on the same day, and both surgeries were a success.
Shahid said it was like a dream come true and Shezana was very thankful. She said that Smile Train came in to their lives at their lowest point and now they are able to go home with a feeling of happiness that can’t be expressed in words.
It is true what they say; it’s never too late to start a new life. 45-year-old Jennifer says she lived a life of hardship and sadness until good fortune led her to Smile Train partner CoRSU Hospital in Katakwi, Uganda. It was a new smile a lifetime in the making.
Jennifer was the youngest of seven children and the only sibling born with a cleft lip and palate. Jennifer recalls her father trying to protect her from bullies growing up, but he did not always succeed, so she spent most of her time isolated at home. To make things worse, the family’s livestock was stolen and they were left destitute.
As much as her father wanted to provide his youngest daughter with a smile, he did not have enough money to take her to the hospital when she was young. Jennifer had been referred to the regional hospital to repair her lip, but they could not afford the transportation to get there.
When Jennifer reached her 45th birthday, she was unmarried with no children. Her father had discouraged Jennifer from getting married because he felt she would be mistreated. All of her siblings were married and had moved away while Jennifer still lived at home. After Jennifer’s parents passed away, she was left to live all alone in their small house.
Her life changed the day a CoRSU representative found Jennifer and brought her to CoRSU hospital for her free Smile Train cleft surgery. Five months after her surgery, Jennifer’s self-esteem has improved greatly. For those who saw her before surgery, it is difficult for them to believe she is the same woman. Now she can eat well, is no longer ridiculed, and says she is ready to make the most of the second half of her life.
Goizom Danza Maleguidjeo’s name translates to “disappeared from the face of the Earth” in her native language in Cameroon. Unfortunately for Goizom, this is not far off from how she spent her childhood. She could not attend school or play with other children her age because of the fear from local parents in her village that she would bewitch their children.
It is a tradition in Goizom’s Mafa tribe for families to send their first daughter into marriage when they turn 16, but this was not the case for Goizom. At age 18, she still lived at home with no suitor, or any friends to talk to. The men in her village believed that since Goizom was born with a cleft, all of her future children would have clefts as well.
Goizom’s life changed one day when a Smile Train community worker came to her village. When the community worker announced that Smile Train helps provide free surgery for children with clefts, Goizom couldn’t believe the news. She knew her parents could not afford the financial cost of a surgery to fix her cleft and she had given up on her dream of having her cleft repaired a long time ago.
When Goizom arrived at Smile Train’s local partner, Maroua Regional hospital, she was surprised to see so many people who had similar cleft conditions as her own. She watched as patients would go in and out of surgery and was amazed by the great new smiles on their faces. When her turn finally arrived, she was ready. 18 long years of waiting for a new smile were finally over.
Today Goizom has returned to her village a completely changed person, proud of herself and full of self-confidence. No longer “disappeared from the face of the Earth,” she is looking forward to her bright future that is now full of endless possibilities.
On April 24, 2015 Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Columbia South Carolina held its 9th Mini-Marathon for Smile Train. Physical Education teacher and real-world Smile Train super hero Thomas Cronin, who was born with a cleft lip and palate, hosts the event every year. He says that he feels so fortunate that he was able to receive surgery when he was a child, and his hope is that every child born with a cleft is able to have the same opportunities for a healthy and productive life that he was given.
On the day of the event each grade level (Kindergarten through Fifth grade) runs and walks for 30 minutes on the school’s outdoor track. This year, the event raised a total of $13,090 for Smile Train. This is enough to provide surgery for 52 children with cleft lips and palates.
Smile Train’s Mini Marathon has become a tradition at Pleasant Hill Elementary School. This year, Smile Train’s own Director, Program Development, Shannon Lambert, got to attend the event, walk around the track with some students, and answer student questions. She said some of the most common questions were “How many surgeries did Smile Train help provide last year?” and “How long does it take to complete a surgery?” One student, a young boy, shared a story with Shannon about his cousin that lives in Guadalajara, Mexico who was born with a cleft. His cousin didn’t have transportation to get to a treatment facility, so the little boy’s family in South Carolina drove to Mexico to bring the boy to the hospital for surgery.
Overall, Pleasant Hill Elementary School’s Smile Train Mini Marathon gives the students a chance to learn more about a meaningful cause, and how something as simple as a smile can change a life, all while getting fit at the same time.
Grainne McElhone, a former cleft patient, donated her 30th birthday to Smile Train. We recently had the chance to ask her some questions.
How did you become involved with Smile Train and why?
A few years ago I spoke to a doctor who happened to be a Smile Train supporter. Up until that point, I didn’t know much about Smile Train so I did some research and decided I wanted to help This was when I came up with the idea of a sponsored birthday… my 30th was coming up and I thought it would be the best way to celebrate it!
What motivates you to keep supporting Smile Train?
Following my research into the charity, it made me appreciate how lucky and fortunate I was to receive the care that I did. It made me realise that many children and adults in developing countries may not get the opportunity to have their clefts repaired without the support of Smile Train.
How did you support Smile Train?
To celebrate my 30th birthday this year I held a coffee morning in lieu of gifts from friends and family. I asked them for a donation to Smile Train, in which I was able to raise over £1,900, an amount I was overwhelmed with and could not have reached without a lot of help from my family and friends.
What makes you Smile?
Friends and family always make me smile and laugh, going for cocktails, new clothes and random acts of kindness. Receiving and giving always wins a smile!
Why do you give to Smile Train?
To give someone else the smile that I was lucky enough to get.
Monesta is six months old and she was born with cleft lip. She traveled with her mother, Pili, a distance of 200km by bus to arrive at local Smile Train partner hospital CCBRT.
Monesta is the 5th child of Pili, a 29 years old Tanzanian woman from a farming family. When Pili gave birth to Monesta at their home, she was surprised when she saw her newborn’s cleft lip. Pili had seen other children living with unrepaired clefts so she was unaware that surgery to repair her daughter’s cleft was even an option.
When Monesta was four months old, Pili took her to a local dispensary and the medic there told her about Smile Train and how her daughter’s cleft could be repaired at no cost to her.
Pili and Monesta arrived at CCBRT on March 14. They spent five days in the hospital and Smile Train’s local partner surgeon, Dr Wayi, performed Monesta’s cleft repair surgery. Pili was so happy with the results and there was very little swelling. You can now see just how much Monesta loves her new smile as she beams brightly in every photo taken of her since her surgery.
In his own words Smile Train supporter, Blake Haugland explains what motivates him to fundraise for Smile Train.
No matter how you look at it, an athlete competing in a triathlon is competing for their own personal satisfaction and that’s a great thing, but race after race I started feeling like I wanted to cross the finish line for more than myself or a new “PR”. That’s when I found Smile Train. Knowing that I could use my triathlon races and connections in NASCAR to help change a child’s life was the perfect way for my wife Melissa and myself to do this.
Through my coaching business LIMITLESS MULTISPORT TRAINING I have been able to donate a percentage of my earnings toward our Smile Train goal which is awesome because it’s a way my athletes can help raise money and train! Another amazing tool I have been able to use has been offering lug nuts from our pit stops to race fans for a donation. We have thousands of fans who tour pit road prior to the race start and they are able to come by our pit stall and hang out and grab an authentic lug nut from the prior week’s race. In the past we used to literally leave these used lug nuts on the ground or they would get thrown in the trash but now they are being turned into smiles!
I know sometimes it can be financially difficult for people to donate money but if you can incorporate it into a purchase they are already planning on making you can hit a home run every time! I want to thank Michael Waltrip Racing and NASCAR for the opportunity to make these children have a better quality of life. See you at the track!