Two New Smiles, Two New Futures

Twin brothers Ram Prasad and Ram Pranesh are outstanding “A” students with a shared love for painting and sports. If you look at the picture from their fifth birthday (above), you would never know that the twins had very difficult beginnings and that without help they would be living very different lives.

Their mother and father worked as agricultural laborers in Tamil Nadu, India, and were worried about adequately providing for two more boys. The couple worked very hard but, when both Prasad and Pranesh were born with bilateral cleft lips and palates, the couple knew they couldn’t afford the surgery their boys needed.

Fortunately, it did not take long before their mother, Jayanthi found out about Smile Train. The family went to a screening at their local partner hospital and it was confirmed the boys were both eligible for free cleft lip and palate surgeries. Jayanthi was overjoyed to find out that after their surgeries, the boys would also receive free speech therapy at Sri Ramachandra Hospital (SRMC). Jayanthi was excited the boys would never be taunted for the way they spoke.

Jayanthi said, “The twins are thriving today because of Smile Train and SRMC, without your help the boys would be nowhere.”

Jessica Gutierrez: Journey To Save A Life

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Jessica Gutierrez (above, center) tells us about her visit to see local Smile Train medical partners in Buenos Aires, Argentina and a young mother who made a strong impression on her.

Buenos Aires, Argentina – I am an Associate, Direct Marketing at Smile Train and every day I see pictures of the wonderful new smiles of our patients. I am always in awe of the great work our partner surgeons and medical staff do every day of the year. Recently, I was given the opportunity to visit some of Smile Train’s local in-country partners in Argentina to see first-hand the impact one simple surgery has on not only a child, but their whole family. When I arrived at Asociación PIEL, I noticed a woman looking very nervous staring at her baby. I went over and the anxious mother, Giuliana, introduced herself and her baby, Juan Ignacio. He was a vivacious and happy little boy, and he chuckled every time I waved at him. Giuliana told me how scared and shocked she was when she first realized her child had been born with a cleft. She had never seen anyone with a cleft before and didn’t know what to do. As soon as she heard about Asociación PIEL she knew she had to make the trip to have her son treated.

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Giuliana lives almost two hours from Buenos Aires, she traveled with her mother-in-law on a bus to our partner surgeon, Dr. Bennun, to treat Juan Ignacio. I happened to meet her the day before Juan Ignacio’s surgery, which helped me understand why she seemed extra nervous. Giuliana felt better when we spoke to another mother whose son had been successfully treated by Dr. Bennun and was visiting for follow-up care. The following day, I talked to Giuliana right before Juan Ignacio’s surgery. She was nervous but also anxious to see her son after the surgery. She had heard other parents say that they didn’t even recognize their child after surgery and she couldn’t wait to see his new smile!

I left the hospital that day knowing that not only Juan Ignacio’s life, but also Giuliana’s was about to change. She now has the confidence that Juan Ignacio will grow and develop just like any other child and will have the opportunity to live a full life. The experience of meeting families like Juan Ignacio’s showed me just how powerful the work Smile Train and our partners are doing. I recently sent his mother some of the pictures I took while I was in Buenos Aires and I can’t wait to hear about how Juan Ignacio is doing – smiling a lot I bet!

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Two Generations of Uncertainty

When Lackson Koliesa was born, his mother Joyce was devastated when she saw that he had a cleft lip. Joyce learned from an early age how kids and adults treated people who look differently and she knew the suffering that lay ahead for her sweet boy.

Joyce was from a large family, including an uncle with a cleft lip. “My uncle had a cleft lip and was called an “ogre” by people in the village. When we walked down the streets kids used to scatter whenever they saw him, they all had their harrowing theories on why he had a cleft lip,” Joyce recalls.Luckson Koliesa Joyce tried as best as she could to get her son’s cleft lip fixed. But her hopes dwindled as time went on. She couldn’t afford paying for a reparative surgery for her son and she thought Lackson was in store for the same future as her uncle.

When she learned of Smile Train and the free surgeries local Smile Train surgeons help provide, she finally found her answer. She embarked on a four hour long journey from her town in Solwezi to Ndola. Joyce was filled with uncertainty the entire trip, wondering if her son would receive the free surgery. When Joyce and Lackson arrived in Ndola little Lackson was screened and cleared for surgery.

It frightened Joyce to send her baby into surgery, but when he emerged from the operating room less than an hour later, she knew she’d made the right decision. Lackson will never have to suffer the way her uncle did.

“You are my heroes” she says, “Smile Train gave my son a bright future.”

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Bringing Smiles & Hope to Yemen

Since 2011, Yemen has been in a state of fiscal, political and humanitarian crisis. The country has struggled with poverty, terrorism, unemployment, and government corruption. Although the people in Yemen have been facing many challenges, Smile Train does its best to help provide smiles in a place where smiles may be hard to find.SAM_9597_resized

Many hospitals in Yemen, like other developing countries, can’t afford the rising costs of lab tests, medicines, and room rent. Some hospitals can’t afford to pay their surgeons and anesthesiologists. To keep up with demand, patients and their families can be discharged after a few hours. This can be problematic and even dangerous for patients who have traveled a long way from home and now have to desperately look for shelter in an expensive city.

However; children with unrepaired clefts in Yemen have hope. Thanks in part to the support from a generous local donor, a Smile Logistics Centre in Hadda, Sana was launched. Now even patients from the most remote regions of the country are able to travel to the Sana Centre. In the first four days of opening Smile Train’s local partner surgeon was able to help twenty-nine children.

The gracious donor has even gone a step further by helping to sponsor surgeries in the remote Indian Ocean island of Socotra. Socotra Island is one of the most remote places in the entire world. Health care on the island is extremely scarce, and therefore Socotra Hospital has become essential for the people living there.

The goals for the Smile Logistics Centre are to target the poorer and more distant regions of the country and to help at least one thousand cleft children receive new smiles. Smile Train ads play on the radio and pamphlets with the Centre’s information have been helping to spread awareness across the country.

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Mariane Goes Power Of A Smile

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Mariane Goes, Brazil, Program Manager talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her.

What first inspired you to work with / support Smile Train?

Before working at Smile Train, I worked for Smile Train’s first partner hospital in Brazil called SOBRAPAR. I saw the wonderful and important work Smile Train was doing at SOBRAPAR, and the amount of kids having their cleft repaired due to their help. I thought to myself, what a great place to work, I would love to be part of this! My dream was to work with Smile Train, and help them to help more kids in my country… And now I’m living my dream.

What do you think the Power Of A Smile is?

Every time I see a patient, I remember how important a smile is and how important this opportunity to smile is for a child and for their families. A power of a smile… is life-changing! The power of a smile is the power to change all the bad moments that a kid has passed through her/his life to good! To happiness! They can smile now! They can be happy!!!

What has the Power Of A Smile done for you in your life?

I know there is still so much left to do, so many children left to help, and I’m more thankful for our perfect life. Helping people doesn’t always mean donating money, we can all donate a little time to help someone in need.

A Journey of Smiles Halfway Around the World

Guest blogger, William Horan, Smile Train’s Vice President, Principal and Planned Giving talks about his recent trip to Vietnam to see our local in-country medical partners and programs in action.

I recently traveled to Vietnam with my 28-year-old son Sean, who is an avid traveler and who has faced many challenges in his life. I wanted him to see what kids with clefts experience on the other side of the world.

My son and I were also joined by Smile Train’s Country Manager, Vietnam Nguyễn Trí Dũng, who we call Dzung. Dzung coordinated our partner visits and helped make us feel comfortable and welcome after our long journey. He also shared some personal insights into Vietnam’s often-difficult past, which made the trip a terrific learning experience even beyond Smile Train. Bill

We visited two very contrasting partner hospitals, the National Hospital of Odonto and Stomatology in Hanoi and the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children in Da Nang. We toured both hospitals and met the local surgeons, nurses, speech therapists and patients. What was evident at both hospitals was a genuine and heartfelt gratitude for the Smile Train partnership. Both teams spoke glowingly of how our support has made a difference in their ability to treat children with clefts. Both hospitals embrace our partnership model.

The highlight of the trip was no doubt visiting twin brothers Don and Dai (their names translate to “Big Time” and “Rumor”) at their school and meeting their family. The boys were born with very severe clefts, but now at four-years-old you could hardly tell. They both look great, are adorable and happy, and were probably wondering what all the fuss was about!

After visiting the boys’ school, we went to visit their home. The boys live three hours from Hanoi up in very picturesque hills, amidst rice patties and water buffalo. It was incredibly serene and peaceful there. As Sean and I walked on a dike above the rice patties, we were relaxed and fulfilled, and it was at that moment that I really understood the meaning of Smile Train.

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Gulaab Presents… A Monkey Show!

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Gulaab, spent 46 years of his life with an unrepaired cleft lip living in Pakistan. Because of his cleft, it was hard for him to find a job, so he made a living moving around from village to village putting on monkey shows. Gulaab formed strong bonds with his monkeys. He connected with them because they accepted him no matter what he looked like. Unfortunately, because of his unrepaired cleft, he was unable to form the same kind of bonds with other people.

One day Gulaab was putting on his show at a gas station, and he was approached by Dr. Ijaz Bashir, who by chance was the founder of the Cleft Centre Gujrat. Dr. Bashir told Gulaab that there was a way he could receive free cleft surgery. Gulaab was amazed and said it was the best news he’s ever heard.Gulaab 2

When Gulaab arrived at the hospital, he worried that he couldn’t afford to take a break to heal from the surgery, his shows were his only livelihood. The Cleft Center Gujrat came up with a perfect solution. They offered to help compensate Gulaab by amusing the babies in the hospital who were waiting for their cleft surgeries with his monkey shows and Gulaab accepted the offer happily.

After his surgery Gulaab left with a big smile on his face. He was overjoyed to get back home to see his monkeys.